Mortality among adults with mental health problems in England was 3.6 times higher than the rate of the general population in 2010/11, according to new figures.

Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre’s (HSCIC) Mental Health Minimum Dataset show that people in contact with specialist mental health services had a higher death rate for most causes of death, especially mental and behavioural disorders and diseases of the nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease.

However, a much higher level of mortality for people aged 19-74 also occurred for lifestyle-related diseases, including:
• Nearly four times the general population rate of deaths from respiratory diseases
• Just over four times the general population rate of deaths from digestive diseases
• 2.5 times the general population rate of deaths from diseases of the circulatory system.

More specifically, diseases of the liver accounted for 7.6% of all deaths among service users aged under 75, and ischaemic heart diseases were the cause of 9.9% of deaths.

By age, the difference in mortality rates was largest among people aged 30 to 39; at almost five times that of the general population.

HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: “While it may be assumed that the mortality rate would be higher for diseases like dementia among mental health service users, it is perhaps unexpected that the mortality rate for more lifestyle-related conditions is also much higher than for the general population.

“This data is a very valuable starting point for health professionals and the public alike to understand what is happening to people who access specialist mental health services.”

Simon Lawton Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, called for more training for healthcare staff to understand the links between mental and physical health: “This data reveals with frightening clarity the inequalities in health experienced by people with a mental illness, leading to the premature death of thousands of people every year.

“People with severe and enduring mental health problems are among the heaviest smokers in the UK, and are also often heavy drinkers. Being mentally ill can also cause people to neglect their physical health. They may not be physically active, and may stop eating properly.

“We must do more than just treat the clinical symptoms of mental illness. All healthcare staff need to understand the complex links between mental and physical health, and make sure that individuals get support for all their physical and mental health needs.

“This means developing new training for staff, and systems that facilitate multidisciplinary and cross-sector working, and shared health and social care budgets.”