Poor mental health a risk factor for chronic disease

Mental health tracker infographic

Millions of Australians living with mental illness also suffer chronic ill health, according to a new study. While 4 million Australians live with a mental health condition, more than 2.4 million people have both a mental and physical condition.

The study from the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) at Victoria University found poor mental health was a major risk factor for poor physical health, and vice versa.

While it’s been well known that severe mental illness shortens people’s life expectancy by 10 to 15 years, the research has for the first time quantified the extent of the combined effects of poor physical and mental health.

It found clear links between the two — people living with chronic physical issues are at higher risk of developing mental health conditions, while those with mental illness were also more likely to develop physical illness.

It also found 23 per cent of men, and 20 per cent of women, with a mental health condition were more like to smoke than the rest of the population. They were also more likely to drink alcohol and exercise less than other Australians and suffer from a number of chronic diseases.

"People with chronic health conditions such as heart conditions, arthritis, back pain, diabetes, asthma and cancer should also be assessed regularly for mental health issues to target prevention and early intervention," the report said.

It said the combined health conditions affected welfare and education, health services and costs, productivity, employment, and social participation. Mental health conditions are a leading cause of illness and disability in Australia.

"Improving the physical health of people living with mental health conditions, and conversely, the mental health of people living with physical health conditions, must become a priority to improve the health of all Australians," the report said.

It found those with mental health conditions also needed to be regularly screened for physical ailments.

“We know there is strong evidence about the negative impact of mental health problems for people who already have chronic physical conditions, and equally strong evidence that having a mental health problem increases the risk of every single major chronic disease,” Professor Allan Fells said in launching the report.

 “The objective of this new publication from the Australian Health Policy Collaboration, Australia’s Mental and Physical Health Tracker, is to bring attention to the issues of higher risk factors and incidence of preventable chronic disease for Australians with mental health conditions.”

The National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) last year called for equality in health care for people living with a serious mental illness. Through the Equally Well statement, 53 organisations, including Wellways, called for better access to health care, better screening, early treatment and improved management of co-existing physical health conditions.

The NMHC has long held the view that the health system is failing people living with mental illness by not proactively addressing their physical health needs. “The resulting life expectancy gap experienced by people with mental illness is simply not acceptable in Australia,” said Dr Peggy Brown, CEO of the NMHC.

Health gap explored further

The theme of the latest NewParadigm magazine arises from the work of the National Mental Health Commission towards bridging the life expectancy gap for people with mental illness through improved physical health. It explores the physical toll on people with mental health issues as well as the many systemic and practice barriers that exist in mental health care. The work in the edition confirms there is an urgent need to act.

New paradigm is the Australian Journal on Psychosocial Rehabilitation, published by Mental Health Victoria in partnership with Community Mental Health Australia. The magazine showcases the work of academics, mental health professionals and organisations in the sector, including an introductory piece by the National Mental Health Commission and examples of interventions that are offering pathways to better practice and better health outcomes.

Read the latest edition here 

Victorian carers get hard won recognition

The Victorian government has initiated a whole-of-government strategy recognising the important role of carers in the community.

The Victorian Carer Strategy 2018–22 was released by the Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, Martin Foley, and Parliamentary Secretary for Carers and Volunteers, Gabrielle Williams. It sets out a framework to acknowledge and support carers, including improved access to support groups, transport and services.

The strategy provides $1.2 million for extra respite, school holiday programs and support for young carers, as well as more support for carers of people with a mental illness. 

“Many of the priorities identified in consultations are reflected in the strategy, and we are excited about this dynamic whole-of-government approach to supporting the 736,600 unpaid family and friend Victorian carers,” Carers Victoria CEO Scott Walker said.

“This strategy, and our additional funding, will help our carers enjoy a better quality of life, improved health, and stay connected to their local communities,” Mr Foley said.

Government estimates show almost 740,000 carers contribute $15 billion benefit to the annual economy.

What’s on

The MHS Conference, Adelaide, 28-31 August

Aged & Community Service Australia National Summit, Sydney, 3-5 September 

Fixing NDIS National Conference, Melbourne, 3-4 September

Care Expo, Brisbane, 14-15 September

Australian Psychosis Conference, Sydney, 14-16 September

Mental Health Week, 7-13 October

42nd Annual IHF World Hospital Congress, Brisbane, 10–12 October

Youth Mental Wellbeing Conference, Melbourne, 14 October

Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium, Hobart, 15–17 October

NDIS & Mental Health Conference - Mental Health Policy, Practice & Reform: Getting It Right in A Time of Change, Melbourne, 31 October and 1 November