18 Jul 2013

Psych patients dying younger - research

8:49 pm on 18 July 2013

A consultant psychiatrist says new research showing reduced life expectancy for people with mental disorders has serious implications.

Researchers from the University of Western Australia have found psychiatric patients are dying up to 15.9 years earlier than the general population.

Associate Professor David Menkes, from the Waikato Clinical School, says the research shows patients' life expectancy went down in the two decades to 2005, with most dying of preventable conditions such as heart disease.

"This is a big deal. The mortality gap has gone up. It is actually going the wrong way.

He says that will be partly because of the use of new anti-psychotic drugs that cause metabolic changes, including weight gain and high cholesterol levels.

Dr Menkes says health services are now monitoring the physical condition of psychiatric patients more closely but whether that is enough to reverse the growing mortality gap remains to be seen.

Deputy Director of Mental Health Arran Culver says the drop in life expectancy is a concern for the whole psychiatric community.

He says not all patients suffer metabolic side effects from anti-psychotic medications, and many can be managed through diet and exercise.

He says the Ministry of Health is working hard on ways on to counter the adverse effects on some patients.