The Shocking Truth: Severe Mental Illness & Life Expectancy

Image courtesy of dream designs at
Image courtesy of dream designs at

Allen Francis, Emeritus Professor at Duke University has just published an excellent blog entitled ‘Having a Severe Mental Illness Means Dying Young’ in the Huffington Post.

Prof. Francis, who rather refreshingly pulls no punches throughout his article, writes this as his opening paragraph:

People diagnosed with serious mental illness — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression — die 20 years early, on average, because of a combination of lousy medical care, smoking, lack of exercise, complications of medication, suicide, and accidents.

He goes on to say:

They (people diagnosed with a serious mental illness) are the most discriminated-against and neglected group in the U.S., which has become probably the worst place in the developed world to be mentally ill.

Prof. Francis includes an insightful piece in his blog by  Dr. Peter Weiden, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois College of Medicine to explain why the outcomes are so poor, and to suggest what can be done about it.  According to Prof. Francis, Weiden has spent his professional career working on improving outcomes and reducing side effects and complications for people with serious mental illness and is therefore well placed to comment.

Weiden pulls out the key points of his analysis, which you can read in more detail, should you wish to.  But the most striking  observation for me is when he writes this:

Society would not tolerate 20 years of lost life expectancy for other groups, even those that also suffer discrimination like Latino or blacks or gays. If this were HIV or breast cancer or multiple sclerosis, we would not tolerate the total fragmentation of healthcare as we do with mental illness.

We are complacent because the lives of those with severe mental illness do not matter to us. Unless the person dying young is your parent or your child, or your brother.

And he’s right.  The fundamental problem that we have, whether it be in the US or the UK, is the shocking apathy and indifference that confront those who are trying to make the general populace sit up, listen and ultimately to call for change.  We can do this, difficult though it may be, by lobbying our elected representatives and getting our friends to do likewise; we can also make sure that we talk about mental health and well-being at every opportunity, thus ensuring that it no longer a ‘taboo’ subject.

You can read (and share) Allen Francis’ article here.


One thought on “The Shocking Truth: Severe Mental Illness & Life Expectancy

  1. I’ve read these studies, but notice the main problem of dying young can be avoided. If you notice the main issues are not medication or mental illness related organ failure, but suicide, smoking etc.

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