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Physical Health Neglected For Young People with Mental Illness

30 June 2016 at 11:05 am
Wendy Williams
  A new report has revealed people with mental illness die up to 30 years earlier than the general population, amid claims their physical and sexual health is being largely ignored. Orygen, The National Centre

Wendy Williams | 30 June 2016 at 11:05 am


Physical Health Neglected For Young People with Mental Illness
30 June 2016 at 11:05 am


A new report has revealed people with mental illness die up to 30 years earlier than the general population, amid claims their physical and sexual health is being largely ignored.

mental health young girl head on hands RS

Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, released a report on Wednesday, claiming if diagnosed, a young person’s mental ill-health often becomes the single focus of their treatment, at the cost of their physical health.

The report said this limited focus was leaving them vulnerable to poorer physical and sexual health outcomes later in life due to the accumulated risk of poor diet and/or lack of activity, along with higher rates of smoking, drinking or other drug use among young people with a mental illness.

The report, Physical Challenge, Wider health impacts for young people with a mental illness, is calling for annual health check-ups, early interventions and access to allied health professionals to combat the longer-term health consequences.

Orygen clinical research lead, Professor Eoin Killackey said people with mental illness were dying from preventable illnesses.

“People with mental illness actually die up to 30 years earlier than the general population,” Killackey said.

“They die largely from preventable illnesses usually related to obesity and tobacco smoking.

“Despite being only a quarter of the population, people with mental ill-health smoke nearly half the cigarettes that are produced, and account for nearly 50 per cent of those who die from smoking related illness each year.”

The report highlighted that in particular young people with first-episode psychosis were at a heightened risk of rapid weight gain due to the side-effects of some of the medications prescribed to treat the disorder.

Killackey said the statistics were “shocking”.

“People with mental ill-health are twice as likely to be obese as the general population, some of which is due to preventable medication side effects,” he said.

The report argued a greater understanding of the physical health effects of mental illness would provide the foundation on which public health policies, prevention programs and increased early intervention could be developed.

It pointed to a need to prioritise early intervention treatments that look holistically at the health and wellbeing of young people with mental illness including a focus on their physical and sexual health.

“The interplay between mental and physical health is illustrated in the role nutrition and physical activity can play in treating mental illness, along with the reduction or cessation of alcohol/other drug use,” the report said.

“Early interventions that improve behavioural aspects may minimise the severity of mental illness and the required level of treatment.

“To adequately address the poorer physical health outcomes for young people with a mental illness will require the integration of a broader range of health services, including access to allied health professionals, such as dieticians, exercise physiologists and sexual health nurses.”

Killackey said there needed to be a multi-pronged approach to the problem.

“We need to address this problem in a number of ways including changing the mental health culture to address the whole person, developing better evidence of what works to help people with mental illness maintain healthy lifestyles and quit smoking, and we need to ensure that when people with mental ill health see their GP their body is attended to as well as their mind,” he said.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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