Poor physical health is common among people with serious mental illness in the UK, recent research has revealed.
High levels of diabetes, heart disease and obesity were uncovered among 782 patients who had conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
This explains why their life expectancy is significantly reduced, according to the researchers from the University of East Anglia.
Past studies have suggested that the life expectancy of those with severe mental illness can be up to 25 years shorter than that of the general population.
The most recent work, published in BMC Psychiatry, offers more evidence that physical health rather than mental health issues, such as suicide, are primarily responsible.
Researchers discovered that inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and poor diet were often the norm.
Lead researcher 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.”
Professor Gray said: “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.
Chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Dr Peter Carter said: “Mental health nurses will recognise that too often, patients can suffer twice over because of a combination of poor mental and physical health.
“There are some complex reasons behind this, such as the side effects of prescription drugs, lifestyle limitations and social and economic problems.
“However, we also know that there are some excellent nurse led initiatives which can really make a difference to people.”
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