untreated mental illness can mean a shorter lifespan

untreated mental illness can mean a shorter lifespan

One of the benefits of the advances we’ve made in medicine and technology is a longer life expectancy. Whereas the average life expectancy in 1910 was 51, today it’s 79. However, this increase doesn’t apply to everyone. According to Thomas Insel, the former director of the National Institute on Mental Health, the life expectancy for individuals experiencing severe mental illness is nowhere near the national average.

The World Health Organization (WHO), a non-government organization working to improve health worldwide, produced an information sheet on mental health disorders and how they affect life expectancy, and the data is startling:

  • There is a 10- to 25-year life expectancy reduction for individuals experiencing severe mental disorders.
  • People with severe mental disorders do not receive the same quality of physical health care as the general population.
  • The majority of deaths of individuals with severe mental disorders are related to preventable health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.

Once chronic illness has developed, the severe mental disorders associated with poor self-care can lead to worse health outcomes and higher mortality rates.

Socio-economic factors exacerbate the situation. Many individuals experiencing mental illness are at a higher risk for experiencing poverty, unemployment, stigma and isolation. These factors can then create barriers to accessing proper care and treatment. Further, some symptoms of mental illness, such as a reduced ability to engage with and navigate the world around them, can create barriers, too.

Such dire results of mental illness can be mitigated or avoided altogether if treatment begins as early as possible. This is just one reason why children’s mental health care experts advocate strongly for early intervention. There are a variety of resources available to the children of Bexar County. For more information, click here.

ACEs Effects on Mental Illness and Lifespans

Just as socio-economic factors affect mental illness and lifespans, so too can Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). As defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events that are related to a variety of physical and mental health problems. ACEs can also affect an individual’s lifespan because of the connection between the experiences and risky health behaviors and chronic health conditions. ACEs.

Examples of an adverse childhood event include:

  • Abuse: physical, sexual and emotional
  • Neglect: physical and emotional
  • Violence toward the mother in the household
  • Substance abuse within the household
  • Mental illness in the household
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarceration of a household member

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
|Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

 The good news is that ACEs can be prevented, physical health improved, and mental illness treated. It’s important to understand that the ACE evaluation doesn’t take into account positive experiences and their effects that can reduce the effects of the negative. Further, a high ACE score isn’t always a barrier to success and good health.

Curious about your ACE score? Take this quiz on NPR’s website. To learn more about ACE and the Center for Disease Control’s studies related to ACE, click here.

With an eye to the best for our kids,

Michele Brown

Michele Autenrieth Brown is the director of development for Clarity Child Guidance Center. She became passionate  mental health advocate after trying to navigate the system of care to support a family member. When she is not shuttling kids to practices or spending time with her husband, Michele is perfecting just what to say to get the perfect eye roll and sigh from her teen and pre-teen children.

If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).