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Poor Mental Health Shown to Reduce Life Expectancy


It has long been believed that physical health is linked to mental health, with physically healthy people exhibiting greater overall mental wellness than their more sedentary counterparts.  There have been numerous studies proving that one’s physical health affects ones mental health, and that if you improve your physical wellbeing with exercise and such, your mental wellbeing improves as well. Yet another study, published July 31, 2012 in the British Medical Journal, has provided evidence that the link between the two may go the other direction, and that mental health has an effect on physical health.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers from University College London and the University of Edinburgh, analyzed data from 68,000 participants aged 35 and over who took part in the Health Survey of England over a ten-year period, from 1994 to 2004.  While the British have their own particulars, quirks, and oddities, it is likely the results can be applied to people in other parts of the world (even Canadians).

Those who participated in the study were asked to rate their feelings of anxiety and depression on a scale of no symptoms to severe symptoms over a minimum eight-year period.  Those with minor to severe anxiety and depression were shown to be more vulnerable to diseases leading to premature death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The researchers took into account determinants such as weight, exercise, diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and diabetes, trying to determine what specific effect the psychological distress of mental illness beyond the aforementioned factors.  According to Dr. David Batty, senior author of the study, the increased mortality of the mentally ill “is not simply due to people with higher levels of psychological distress having poorer health behaviors.”  Instead, the possibility exists that mental illness either causes or is associated with biological changes in the body linked to life-threatening health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

This is the largest study to date linking mental and physical health.  John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, told the website ScienceDaily, “People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society.  This study highlights the need to ensure they have access to appropriate health care and advice so that they can take steps to improve the outcome of their illness.”

Having suffered from intense mood and anxiety problems for the vast majority of my life, I can feel on a daily basis the toll my mental abnormalities are taking on my physical health.  Even as I’m writing and researching this article, my ability to focus, sit still, relax, and find peace of mind are being compromised by the pathologies that wrack my brain many if not most hours of the day.

Heart palpitations, headaches, insomnia, poor eating habits, lethargy, intense fear, extreme rage, racing thoughts, dyspepsia, hopelessness, nausea, hypersensitivity, and procrastination are just some of the symptoms I experience from a moderate to severe degree from day to day.  I can often feel my body breaking down and wearing itself out from my neuroses and near psychotic paranoia and frustration.

Heart disease and stroke seem to be near-inevitabilities at this point and longevity is as likely as the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Detroit Lions winning championships in the same year.  Perhaps a premature demise will be a merciful end to the chaos and confinement I have known all too well since age 12.  Meds can help ease the anxiety- and depression- based suffering to some degree, but it often comes with a heavy price tag – namely, side effects, including weight gain, sedation, and listlessness.

I completely agree with the findings of this study.  Too often, mental illness causes its subjects to spend more of their lives preparing to die than actively engaging in living.  This makes it very hard for the person with poor mental health to take the necessary steps and actions to have a healthy body.  As is usually the case, such negative thinking all-too-predictably becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.




  1. “Poor Mental Health Linked to Reduced Life Expectancy.”  ScienceDaily.  31 July 2012.  Web.  07 September 2012.

Khatri, M.D., Sunita.  “Poor Mental Health Can Reduce Life Expectancy.”  The Med Circle.  12 August 2012.  Web.  07 September 2012.


By Greg L.

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Filed under: Mental Illness · Tags: better way of living, good mental health, life expectancy, mental health, physical health, proactive

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