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York researchers develop blueprint for protecting physical health in people with mental illness

Posted on 16 July 2019

Researchers from the University of York and Hull York Medical School are at the centre of an international commission to improve the health of people who use mental health services.

The commission presents clear directions for health promotion, clinical care and future research.

People with mental illness die several years earlier than those without mental illness. This is mainly due to the high rate of physical illness seen in people with mental illness.

Despite co-existing physical illness being common and drastically reducing life expectancy, it is often not recognised, and is poorly managed by health services. This is made worse by reduced access to adequate healthcare, which is the norm for people with mental illness.

Rates of any kind of physical illness are doubled for people with mental illnesses - including infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. These patterns are observed across low-income, middle-income and high-income countries.

New initiatives

The commission, from The Lancet Psychiatry, has brought together international experts to show the evidence for the poor physical health in people with mental illness, and present clear directions for health promotion, clinical care and future research.

Published online on 16 July, the Lancet Commission highlights common factors that drive high rates of mental illness in people with poor physical health and presents actions and initiatives for health policy and clinical services to address these issues.

Reviews included in the commission by York and Hull York Medical School researchers– Dr Najma Siddiqi and Dr Jo Taylor - show that heart disease and diabetes are the most important causes of reduced life expectancy.

Urgently required

Their research highlights that very high rates of smoking, physical inactivity and poor diet should be targeted to improve health, but that more research is urgently required on how to do this effectively.

Dr Najma Siddiqi, Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York and Hull York Medical School said: “The poorer physical health and reduced life expectancy for people with mental illness seen across the world is unacceptable.

“The right to health is a fundamental human right, which is being denied to people with mental illness.”


Strategies to reduce health inequalities for people with mental illness form the cornerstone of York’s internationally-regarded multi-million pound mental health and addictions research programme.

Research to improve diabetes care led by Dr Siddiqi and Dr Taylor, together with recently published trials of smoking cessation led by Professor Simon Gilbody were included in the Lancet commission. Strategies to improve physical health for people who use mental health services are also central to the recently awarded £9M Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) for Yorkshire and Humber.

Professor Gilbody, Director of Mental Health Research at the University of York and the Hull York Medical School added: “The Lancet commission shines a light on this important source of discrimination and inequality. The best researchers and the best research in the world have been selected to ensure physical health becomes a priority.

“I am delighted to see Dr Siddiqi and Dr Taylor at the heart of this important endeavour. This is the sort of thing York does best.”

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