Mental illness may shorten lifespan

July 31, 2012 at 11:40 PM
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LONDON, July 31 (UPI) -- People with mental health problems -- especially symptoms of anxiety or depression -- have a lower life expectancy, British and Scottish researchers say.

A team of researchers at the University College London and the University of Edinburgh analyzed data from more than 68,000 adults age 35 and older who took part in the Health Survey for England from 1994 to 2004.

Study participants had been evaluated for mental health problems using a recognized scale ranging from no symptoms to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Senior author Dr. David Batty of University College London looked to see whether people who reported these symptoms during the study were more likely to have died over an eight-year period. The team examined whether there was an association with death from cardiovascular disease, cancer or from external causes of death.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, showed people who experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression had a lower life expectancy than those without any such symptoms. Even people with minor symptoms of mental health problems seemed to have a higher risk of death from several major causes, including cardiovascular disease.

"These associations also remained after we did our best to take into account other factors such as weight, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption and diabetes," Batty said in a statement. "Therefore this increased mortality is not simply due to people with higher levels of psychological distress having poorer health behaviors."

There is a possibility that mental health problems may be associated with biological changes in the body that increase the risk of diseases such as heart disease, the researchers said.

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