Background: Physical illnesses are more prevalent among patients with serious and enduring mental illnesses. This is mainly due to the association between mental and physical illnesses, complications of the mental illness itself and as a side effect of medication. Medical problems can be overlooked by psychiatrists due to several reasons. More research and audit of the existing services are necessary to establish the physical needs of patients with complex mental health problems.
Aim: To give an account of the causes of excessive mortality and physical morbidity among patients with serious mental health problems.
Method: Review of the worldwide literature.
Results: Physical problems are more common and the standardised mortality rate (SMR) is higher in psychiatric patients compared to the general population. The main causes are association between mental and physical illnesses, lifestyle including lack of physical activity, smoking and poor dietary habits, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus and other cardiac risk factors. There is a close association between treatment with antipsychotic medication and weight gain, diabetes mellitus, sudden death, cardiac and endocrine complications such as QT prolongation and also hyperprolactinemia.
Conclusion: The paper highlights the importance of monitoring physical problems in patients with serious and enduring mental illnesses. Good practice points include help with smoking cessation, psycho-education about healthy lifestyle, close liaison between carers and professionals, the importance of taking baseline investigations before commencing antipsychotics, a shared care approach with primary care, early identification of the risk factors for physical illnesses and regular monitoring of physical health. Also important are social interventions such as appropriate accommodation and structured day, leisure and sporting activities.