People who use mental health services experience the poorest physical health and most profound health inequalities of any section of the population. Diabetes, heart disease and chronic respiratory illness are two to three times more common than for people without mental ill health.
Life expectancy is reduced by 20 to 25 years, something which has become known as ‘the mortality gap’. The underlying causes are complex and innovative solutions are urgently needed.
Who we are
We chose to address the physical health inequality in people with the most severe forms of mental ill health and have formed the ‘Closing the Gap’ network which is led by researchers at the University of York and Keele University.
‘Closing the Gap’ will draw on our track record in population health, primary care, health services research, evidence synthesis, health economics, digital health, environmental science, and the creative arts. Our network includes the Mental Health Foundation to innovate and co-produce research with people who have real ‘lived’ experience.
To improve the physical health and reduce the health inequalities for people with severe mental illness.
What we do
We have prioritised areas which are under-researched but have potential to bring new thinking to this area. For example we will look at the potential of ‘big data’ and digital interventions to engage people in managing their own health, as well as the potential for the natural environment, ‘greenspace’, to improve both mental and physical health. We will also explore the potential of the arts, creativity and cultural resources to improve health.
The Closing the Gap network will be underpinned by core principles of:
We will undertake research and will be able to offer small project grants over the next four years to stimulate new working. We’re also seeking to link up with other researchers and policy makers working in this area in the UK and overseas, to grow our network over time.
Findings from the Optimising Wellbeing in Self-isolation (OWLs) study have been used in the House of Lords recent report on ‘Planning for a Hybrid World’ (see p.34, paragraph 112). The OWLS study explores the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people with severe mental ill health (SMI); the 367 study participants are members of the Closing The Gap Network's research-ready cohort of 10,000 people with severe mental ill health.
Two research papers which emerged from the OWLS study have been recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry:
- Investigating smoking & nicotine dependence among people with SMI during the COVID-19 pandemic: analysis of linked data from a UK Closing the Gap cohort. (Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 April 2021)
- The Digital Divide: Amplifying health inequalities for people with severe mental ill health in the time of COVID-19. (Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 April 2021)