mental illness and early death

A recent study investigated the rates of mortality and causes of premature death in people with specific mental disorders.

With an increased understanding of the development, course, and rates of mental illness, we have come to understand that mental illness is alarmingly prevalent in the population.

In light of such insights, researchers have long been warning of the importance of treating mental disorders, as well as focusing on implementing more effective mental health interventions.

One common factor of concern within the topic of mental health is suicide prevention. However, suicide appears to not be the only mortality risk faced by people with mental disorders.

A team of researchers in Denmark investigated the rates of mental illness and early death. They have looked at data representing over seven million Danish residents between 1995 and 2015, examining the onset of specific mental illness diagnoses and causes of death, particularly premature death.

The researchers found that mortality rates for people with mental illness were twice as high as those for the general population. This was the case for every specific disorder they examined. For instance, mortality rates in people with mood disorders were 1.92 times higher than the general population, while in people with substance use disorders, mortality rates were 3.91 times higher.

For people with mental disorders, the researchers also found shorter life expectancies. Life years lost ranged from 5.42 to 14.84, for different disorders. While suicide rates were higher, people with mental illness were also more likely to die early from general medical conditions, for example, diabetes, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, etc.

Cancer-related deaths were higher in men, yet, the number of years lost to cancer was lower in men with mental disorders. This is likely because non-cancer related rates were even higher, thus, reducing their likelihood of dying from cancer.

The results of this study are alarming, as they represent further evidence that mental illness poses health risks above and beyond those related to suicide. Indeed, it appears that mental disorders and early death are much more interlinked than previously thought.


Written by Maor Bernshtein


Reference: Adorjan, K., & Falkai, P. (2019). Premature mortality, causes of death, and mental disorders. The Lancet, 394(10211), 1784–1786. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(19)32521-8

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