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Blood pressure is one of the factors that can impact people with mental health issues. mixetto/Getty Images
  • Researchers say people with psychiatric conditions such as depression have a higher risk of dying from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic lung conditions.
  • Experts say people living with mental illness can have higher blood pressure, higher levels of stress, and other factors that can impact overall health.
  • They also note there are social factors such as economic status, substance use, and healthcare access that can come into play.

Individuals with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other ailments have twice the risk of dying if they also have a psychiatric condition such as depression.

A study published on Jan. 27 reports that even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors and body mass index, psychiatric comorbidities were associated with increased rates of premature mortality and suicide in those with chronic lung disease, heart health issues, and diabetes.

Researchers from the University of Oxford in England said they used electronic health records to investigate more than 1 million people diagnosed with those conditions.

They reported that more than 7 percent of the participants died from all causes within 5 years, and less than 1 percent died from suicide.

They noted the rates were more than double for participants with psychiatric comorbidities than those without comorbidities.

Noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes are the leading cause of both death and disability globally.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noncommunicable diseases are responsible for 15 million people worldwide dying prematurely every year before age 70.

The Oxford study found that psychiatric disorders were associated with higher rates of all-cause mortality compared with those with noncommunicable diseases who didn’t have psychiatric disorders.

The elevated risk varied based on psychiatric disorders. The risk of mortality increased by between 8 and 10 percent in those with substance use disorder and between 5 and 8 percent in those with depression.

Dr. Alexander Young, the interim director at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California Los Angeles, said the study results aren’t surprising.

“We’ve known for about 10 to 15 years that people with mental illness and addiction have a high rate of premature mortality due to medical problems and inadequate treatment of medical problems,” Young told Healthline.

“[People] with mental health and addiction tend to be socioeconomically more disadvantaged, they have lives that are more chaotic, they have fewer financial resources, and they have more unstable… personal social situations with regard to… housing, family, work, things like that, which also has an effect on their ability to engage meaningfully in primary care,” he added.

In the United States, more than 50 percent of people will receive a mental illness or disorder diagnosis at some point in their life.

One in 5 people in the United States experience mental illness every year, and 1 in 25 live with serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia.

“The brain controls the body, and when things go wrong in the brain, like depression, and certainly substance abuse, the ability of the brain to regulate the body is impaired. And so a lot of the stress response and other systems in the body that help it cope with cardiovascular and metabolic disease don’t work as well when you have a mental illness,” explained Dr. David Spiegel, a professor and associate chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

“Part of it has to do with the interaction of mental illness with physiological stress response systems, but there are other factors, too,” Spiegel told Healthline. “Social support has survival value. Unmarried cancer patients die 4 months earlier than married cancer patients independent of the type of cancer or other risk factors. We’re social creatures. We don’t do as well, especially when we’re sick, without good social support.”

The study authors argue that identifying and treating substance use disorders and depression in people who come to hospitals with chronic health conditions could improve mortality rates.

Spiegel agrees.

“Psychiatric problems are medical problems,” he said. “And the best treatment is the thing that helps people not only with the parts of their bodies that are malfunctioning, but with parts of their body that regulates the whole story, and that’s their brain. Treating brain problems, including habit problems… and depression, is an effective medical treatment.”