The Shocking Facts
In England, people with a serious mental health condition are more than twice as likely to die before the age of 75 compared to the general population. The harsh reality is that if you suffer with psychosis, bipolar or personality disorder, you are more likely than an individual without such a condition to develop a serious physical illness that will shorten your life. Although these physical conditions are treatable, tragically those with serious mental health conditions tend not to access the life-prolonging care in the way that they should.
The physical illnesses affecting life expectancy compared to the general public fall into four categories:
Diabetes - you are four times more likely to die of diabetes if you have a serious mental health condition
Coronary Heart Disease - you are two to three times more likely to die of heart disease if you have a serious mental health condition
Respiratory System Disease - you are nearly four times more likely to die of pneumonia or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) if you have a serious mental health condition
Stroke - you are twice as likely to die as a result of stroke if you have a serious mental health condition
Current NHS data now shows how this inequality varies from postcode to postcode across the country, driving home the reality of these numbers according to where we live and receive our healthcare. If you live with a serious mental health condition in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, you are by no means sheltered from the poor outcomes: you are 2.3 times more likely to die before the age of 75 compared to the general population. In contrast, if you live in neighbouring South Lincolnshire, you are 1.4 times more likely to die before the age of 75 compared to the general population.
Why the difference?
Part of the cause, it seems, is that individuals with serious mental health conditions are not being referred for the key medical tests that screen for heart or respiratory disease. In other words, GPs and other health professionals are simply not getting individuals into the care pathways that could help them. For example, 78% of the population in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire are tested for high cholesterol, yet amongst individuals with a serious mental health condition, only 58% received this test.
What can I do?
Whether you have a serious mental condition or not, these are the checks you should be asking for:
NHS Health Check: This is offered to adults in England between the ages of 40 and 74. It checks your vascular and circulatory health and calculates your risk of developing some of the most disabling but preventable illnesses. It includes tests for cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index and risk of diabetes.
Cervical Screening Test: This used to be known as the 'smear test' and is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix, the entrance to the womb from the vagina. Women between the ages of 25 and 49 should be checked every three years, and women aged 50 to 64, every five years.
In response to the report on Mental Health published in February 2016 by the taskforce set up by NHS England, the government has recently announced a number of measures to improve access to talking therapies and crisis care. Amongst these measures is a screening programme to ensure more people with severe mental health problems get help for physical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
At Cambridgeshire Consultancy in Counselling (CCC), we recognise that being able to, or wanting to take care of oneself physically, can be linked to how we feel psychologically.
If we cannot love ourselves we may be less inclined to attend a screening programme.
CCC's team of professionals have a wide range of backgrounds, experience and skills to meet your needs. For more information, call the nearest receptionist...
Peterborough 01733 553166 or Cambridge 01223 233047 or St Ives 01480 405859
By Rosalind Dare, UKCP reg. Psychotherapeutic Counsellor