The national Equally Well campaign has recently launched a new website to help people living with mental illness.
Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher Associate Professor Russell Roberts (pictured left) who is Chair of the Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium 2018 (Monday 15 to Wednesday 17 October in Hobart, Tasmania) paints a stark picture of mental health in Australia.
“Every hour of every day one person living with mental illness dies prematurely due to cancer, heart disease or lung disease,” Professor Roberts said.
“Research shows on average, people with mental illness die 20 years earlier than the total population’s average life expectancy.
“At the moment, people living with mental illness in Australia are at twice the risk of early death and three times the risk if they live in rural communities.”
Professor Roberts said the Equally Well website also aims to assist their carers, clinicians, and policy makers to access resources to help make a difference and improve the physical health of people living with mental illness.
The Equally Well website and social media campaigns are led by CSU’s Dr Felicity Small, Dr Michael Mehmet and Dr Tahmid Nayeem.
This national initiative by researchers at CSU and at RMIT University seeks to promote and raise awareness of this important but under recognised issue and to encourage collaboration and sharing of successful strategies already in place across Australia.
Dr Chris Maylea, a researcher at the RMIT University School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, said, “The poor physical health of people who use mental health services is both a national crisis and a national shame.
“People with mental illness are dying earlier, living less fulfilling lives, and having their dignity eroded. Health is a human right, and one that should be afforded equally to all Australians.”
The physical health of people living with mental illness is also a priority of The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (2017) which commits to Equally Well.
Professor Roberts said one success story is in Mudgee NSW where the local mental health team and GP practice have partnered to address mental and physical health simultaneously.
“This initiative has resulted in major improvements in clients’ physical health, and also has significantly reduced hospitalisation rates,” he said.
Key facts about living with mental illness in Australia:
* The life expectancy gap between people living with mental illness and the rest of the population is getting larger every decade.
* It appears the benefits of improved health care in Australia are not being passed on to people living with mental illness.
* Coexisting physical illness is often missed due to ‘diagnostic overshadowing’ where mental illness becomes the sole focus and the coexisting physical illness is left undiagnosed and untreated.
* This is a dangerous oversight because 80 per cent of people living with mental illness have a coexisting physical illness.
* For every person who dies due to suicide, 10 die prematurely due to heart disease, respiratory disease or lung cancer.
* Furthermore, ongoing chronic physical illness and disability is a major contributor to suicidality.
* While cardiovascular and respiratory disease are responsible for most of the premature deaths of people living with mental illness, surprisingly, it is prostate cancer and breast cancer that carry the highest elevated risk of early death.