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Obesity, Heart Disease, Diabetes and Mental Illness: Why Are These Often Linked Together?



According to US government statistics, nearly 58 million Americans suffer from mental illness. Of this number approximately 15.8 million are diagnosed with bipolar depression, schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Americans who are diagnosed with severe mental illness e.g. bipolar depression, schizophrenia and severe post traumatic stress disorder are often precribed antipsychotic drugs to treat their condition.

Although medication often lessens the symptoms of mental illness, some drugs have unintended side effects which cause patients to gain weight or increase risk of cardiovascular disease.

In a report prepared by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) Medical Directors Council estimates that adults with severe mental illness die twenty-five years earlier than people in the general population.

This is a serious problem that affects all Americans in terms of health care costs but more importantly because of the sanctity of human life. We must think of ways to reverse this situation and improve the quality of life for people with mental illness.


People With Severe Mental Illness Die From Preventable Diseases

People whom are mentally ill are susceptible to a variety of afflictions. Those which are the focus of this article are obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers - all of which are preventable.

One of the biggest problems that health care professionals point out is that people with severe mental illness lead unhealthy lifestyles. Many of them don't get enough physical exercise and eat unhealthy foods.

Others smoke and drink a lot of alcohol. These habits are also shared by millions of Americans in the general population.

So what can be done to help those who are at risk for heart disease, obesity and adult onset diabetes?


Compassion Goes A Long Way Toward Making Life Better For Others

Jesus instructs us to love our neighbor as we would ourselves. This should be how we treat everyone, and becomes particularly important when the person suffers from mental illness. In order to do this, we must remember to see the whole person.

Because we know that sedentary lifestyle is an unhealthy condition we should encourage a person who spends much of his/her waking hours sitting on the sofa or lying down in bed from lack of anything to do to become physically active. Some suggestions would be:

  • walking around the block
  • swimming
  • playing baseball
  • bicycling

People who are mentally ill are often isolated from others, this can create a sense of loneliness or lack of self-worth. When this happens they will be less inclined to eat healthy or to participate in physical activities.

That's where words and actions of support come in. Encourage them to do a crossword puzzle, arts and crafts or some simple chores. When they're participating in these activities, show interest in what they're doing and praise them for their accomplishments.

When people realize that others care about them, it may bolster their self esteem and motivate them to take better care of themselves.

Although many of the mentally ill depend on public health clinics, some folks don't regularly see the doctor or get check ups. So politely asking a person how he or she is doing and if necessary offering to take them to see their doctor could be helpful. This is because the psychiatrist and other mental health professionals would be able to monitor the person's mental and physical condition.


What More Can We Do?

These are some of the things that we can do to help mentally ill people to help themselves and lower their risk of developing cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or becoming obese. But there's more that can and should be done. What do you suggest?

When you see people suffering how can you not care?


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Article Sources

Foley et al: Systematic Review of Early Cardiometabolic Outcomes of the First Treated Episode of Psychosis. Archives of General Psychiatry Feb 2011.

NIMH. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America.

Morbidity and Mortality in People with Serious Mental Illness. National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) Medical Directors Council. 2006.


"Obesity, Heart Disease, Diabetes and Mental Illness: Why Are These Often Linked Together?" copyright © 2011 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.


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