Poor physical health blights people with mental illness

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Here’s an article I found from OnMedica.com from out of the UK.  This topic is one I am very interested in.  I frequently talk to my peers about the poor health of the mentally ill.  It seems like once a person is diagnosed with any mental illness or psychiatric disorder then they forfeit the right to have physical bodies that can get sick or damaged like everyone else’s.  I am sad to see that this situation is the same across the ocean, too.

Please read this article and let me know if you agree with the findings, won’t you?  I take some issue with the comments in this article that seem to blame the caretakers for the problem.  In this country, hospitals are non-smoking facilities and so the part about smoking doesn’t apply to inpatient care here in the US. 


Adrian O’Dowd

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

People with mental illness are far more likely to have poor physical health than the general population, according to a study published by the journal BMC Psychiatry.

A UK study found that life expectancy of severely mentally ill people was dramatically reduced due to poor physical health and the authors said that the level of mental health professionals’ own physical health was setting a bad example.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) carried out a two-year study of 782 patients with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

During the study, the researchers introduced a Wellbeing Support Programme and trained more than 200 mental health nurses in its use.

The physical health of the patients was screened as part of the programme and appropriate interventions offered.

The screening programme revealed:

  • inactivity, poor diet, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption were the norm
  • obesity was prevalent with 66% having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25
  • 34% of patients had high blood pressure
  • 52% per cent had abnormally high cholesterol levels
  • a high proportion were being prescribed atypical antipsychotic drugs associated with weight gain.

The authors said life expectancy for people with severe mental illness was reduced by as much as 25 years and the major cause of death was cardiovascular disease.

Lead author Professor Richard Gray of UEA’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, said: “Mental health nurses do a tough job and are compassionate and highly committed. But they do not tend to be skilled at managing the physical health of their patients and they often don’t lead entirely healthy lifestyles themselves.

“Since mental health workers tend to have sustained one-to-one relationships with their patients over many years, those who smoke, have a poor diet and fail to take regular exercise are having a negative influence on the lives of already vulnerable people. We urgently need to train our mental health workers to lead by example and intervene if their patients’ physical health is deteriorating.”

Previous research conducted by Professor Gray has shown that incidence of smoking among mental health workers is higher than in the general population and nurses who smoke are less likely to promote smoking cessation in their patients.

Professor Gray told OnMedica the same problem existed for doctors and nurses working in mental health and said: “I have had many experiences in my career where I have been looking out over an audience of psychiatrists and mental health nurses and thinking they were not a good example of role modeling.

“If you were paying huge amounts of money to see a personal trainer at an expensive gym who had a BMI of 30 and who was smoking and drinking huge amounts of alcohol, you would probably take your gym membership somewhere else. That translates to the NHS.

“With smoking, there is a real culture in psychiatry about how you need to smoke in order to build a therapeutic relationship with the patient or client. I think that is nonsense. You are a health professional and your job is to promote health and all aspects of health.”

The original article was found here.

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