Changes urged to tackle mental health ‘human rights scandal’

A new report has found that people with mental illness have drastic physical health challenges which contribute towards a gap in life expectancy of around 20 years, and has recommended changes to health policy and treatment innovations to tackle what is regarded as a ‘human rights scandal.

Today’s publication by The Lancet Psychiatry Commission is the culmination of over 12 months of research, conducted by a taskforce of international experts led by researchers from The University of Manchester, Western Sydney University, UNSW Sydney, King’s College London and Orygen National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health.

The ground-breaking report aimed to establish the extent of physical health disparities in people with mental illness, as well as highlighting the key factors that drive poor health, presenting initiatives for health policy and clinical services to address these issues, and identifying promising areas for future research into novel solutions.

The Commission found that a broad range of mental illnesses are associated with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which contribute towards the lower life expectancy of people with mental illness. Key risk factors include higher rates of smoking, sleep disturbance, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, the side effects of many psychiatric medications, and a lack of access to adequate physical healthcare.

Recommendations include adopting an ‘early intervention’ approach towards protecting physical health from initial stages of illness, and the provision of lifestyle treatments targeting a range of behaviours, such as physical activity and healthy eating. Alongside this, the Commission calls for better integration of physical and mental healthcare, and evidence-based use of psychiatric and cardioprotective medications for people with mental illness.

The chair of the commission, Dr Joseph Firth, senior research fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University and honorary research fellow at The University of Manchester, said the study was an important step towards addressing the entrenched and profound physical health inequities experienced by people with mental illness.

Dr Joseph Firth: “The disparities in physical health outcomes for people with mental illness are currently regarded as a human rights scandal. Patients with serious mental illness are two to three times as likely to have obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases – which impact on quality of life and recovery, while contributing towards a 20-year gap in life expectancy currently experienced by this undeserved population.”

The report and recommendations are available online at, but will be launched formally at the WPA World Congress of Psychiatry to be held in Lisbon, Portugal, in August.