Schizophrenia is a complex mental health disorder that usually begins in the teenage years and peaks in your 30s to 40s. It takes a significant toll on just about every aspect of life. Complications related to the condition can be:

  • mental
  • psychological
  • emotional
  • behavioral
  • physical

Several other health problems, called comorbidities, often arise among people with schizophrenia. These can cause someone with schizophrenia to have a reduced life expectancy. Global studies suggest that a schizophrenia diagnosis can reduce a person’s lifespan by nearly 15 years.

This article will explore how schizophrenia can affect your overall health and lifespan, and how you can try to manage your condition to increase your life expectancy.

Schizophrenia by the numbers

Schizophrenia affects 21 million people worldwide or roughly 3.3 people per thousand.

About half of all people with schizophrenia deal with at least one other chronic medical condition.

The life expectancy for a person with schizophrenia in the United States is nearly 29 years less on overage than people without this condition.

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People with schizophrenia generally live about 15 to 20 years less than those without the condition. Schizophrenia is a complex disease. There are many ways it can result in serious complications.

The primary symptom for most people with schizophrenia is some level of psychosis, appearing with symptoms like:

There are several possible risk factors for developing schizophrenia. This condition runs in some families, which suggests a genetic component, but environmental factors may also have an effect. People with schizophrenia also show differences in the size and function of different areas of the brain, but it’s not clear which causes which.

When it comes to life expectancy, trends are more difficult to identify. Life expectancies are about the same in both men and women with schizophrenia. One study estimated that men might lose almost 16 years from their lifespan while women lose about 13 years. But there was little difference in lifespans based on other factors like age at diagnosis.

Where you live might matter. People with schizophrenia living in African countries face the largest loss of lifespan, followed by people living in Australia, Europe, and North America. Asian countries have among the longest lifespans for people with this condition.

Many things can impact the lifespan of a person living with schizophrenia. Some of these are related to the psychological symptoms of schizophrenia and can include things like depression, suicide, and accidents.

But the biggest risk to the lifespan of a person with schizophrenia is the physical fallout that can come from the disease and its treatments.

Common causes of death

While issues related to psychosis may first come to mind with conditions like schizophrenia, the disorder can also take a physical toll. Physical diseases are linked to cause of death in about 60 percent of people with schizophrenia.

Cardiovascular disease is the top culprit. Studies estimate that this is the main cause of death in 40 to 50 percent of people with schizophrenia.

The elevated risk of cardiovascular disease in people with schizophrenia may be partly genetic, but it’s also largely affected by behavioral and lifestyle choices. People with schizophrenia are more likely to have certain lifestyle habits that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, like smoking or a sedentary lifestyle.

Other physical or medical conditions known to increase the risk of death in people with schizophrenia include:

Although cardiovascular disease is the top cause of lost years of life with this condition, complications from the psychological toll of schizophrenia can’t be ignored.

Overall, suicide and accidents account for about one-fifth of deaths in people with schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia are more likely than others to die by suicide. Because the risk of suicide is highest in the first 4 years of the disease, suicide is responsible for the largest loss of years in life expectancy.

Accidental deaths are about double that of suicide rates.

Substance-use-related deaths that are not related to suicide are also a frequent contributor to death in people with schizophrenia.

Suicide prevention

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and people with schizophrenia are 22 times more at risk than the general population — especially in the first year.

If you or someone you love is struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, don’t wait to get help. You can:

  • call emergency services
  • visit a local emergency department
  • call a friend or therapist
  • reach out to a support group or emergency line

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour confidential service available by phone 7 days a week. This lifeline can connect you to crisis and emergency specialists for free. To learn more, call 800-273-TALK (8255).

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Contributing factors

Suicide and accidental deaths are closely linked to the psychotic episodes that are common in schizophrenia. But other factors increase your risk of other complications that could shorten your life.

Some health conditions that often occur alongside schizophrenia develop due to certain high risk behaviors. Examples of behaviors that can increase your risk of death with schizophrenia include:

  • poor diet
  • lack of exercise
  • underuse of medical services
  • inability to comply with treatment plans
  • smoking and substance use
  • lack of food or other resources

Poor access to care can also be an obstacle for some people with schizophrenia.

There’s also an increased risk from the very things meant to help those with schizophrenia — antipsychotic medications. Second-generation antipsychotics commonly used to treat schizophrenia have long been linked to certain metabolic diseases and side effects.

Talk to your doctor about what medications are best to manage your symptoms, and what the risks might be.

Managing chronic conditions like schizophrenia may not be easy. With schizophrenia, it’s not uncommon for personal and family relationships to become strained or for people to not have access to the treatments and resources they need to improve their life expectancy. Even treatment medications can threaten long-term health.

If you or someone you love is living with schizophrenia, support is key. Support can come in many forms. It might be as easy as making meal suggestions or offering medication reminders.

Some of the best ways to help extend the life of someone with schizophrenia is to offer things like:

  • access to quality healthcare
  • smoking cessation program
  • substance-use disorder treatment
  • counseling and other mental healthcare services
  • nutrition counseling and support
  • exercise programming
  • socioeconomic supports

Consistency and compliance are important for managing schizophrenia and adding years to your life. While the life expectancy for people with schizophrenia is rising because of better medications and increased access to resources, there’s still work to do.

Talk to your doctor and your support system about what you need to manage your condition, and don’t be afraid to ask for more help.

Start by taking steps to manage your stress, get enough sleep, and eat a healthy diet. But sticking to your overall treatment plan and knowing when you need extra support can help even more.

If you have a loved one affected by schizophrenia, you can help by:

More resources

The National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are just two national organizations that can provide you or your loved one with schizophrenia help, including pointing you to online or local resources.

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