Death rate twice as high for people seeking mental health help

The death rate of people using mental-health services in Australia is almost twice as high as the general population, a new report has found.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics report found the standardised rate of death for people seeking mental-health treatment subsidised by the federal government was 11.4 deaths per 1000 people, compared to 6.1 per 1000 among the general population.

The report has renewed calls from mental health experts for an equal focus to be placed on mental and physical wellbeing.

It found that out of the 153,451 deaths in Australia between August 2011 and September 2012, 49.4 per cent of those sought mental-health treatment.

The report only included people who accessed mental-health services or prescription medication funded under the Medicare Benefits Schedule or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Data from state or territory government funded services or those from the private sector were not included.

The report said the higher death rate for those seeking treatment was due to mental health impacting on people's physical health.

"People living with mental illness have poorer physical health and higher rates of mortality, compared with people with good mental health," the report said.

Coronary heart disease was the largest killer of people using mental health services, with those seeking treatment 1.5 times as likely to die from it.

People seeking treatment are also 2.2 times more likely to die from lung cancer, twice as likely to die from emphysema or asthma, 1.5 times more likely to die due to dementia or Alzheimer's and 1.4 times more at risk of dying due to a stroke.

Suicide was the 13th highest cause of death, with people seeking mental-health treatment three times as likely to die from it.

Men who accessed treatment were more at risk than women. Men had a mortality rate of 2.3 times more than the standard male death rate, compared to a rate of 1.7 times more for women.

A spokeswoman for the National Mental Health Commission said using a mental-health service does not necessarily imply the diagnosis of a mental health condition.

"Data from this publication does describe the complex link between mental ill health, poorer physical health and higher rates of mortality, confirming findings from the commission's work [on] Equally Well," she said.

Equally Well was launched by the commission in July, calling to put health care of mental illness on an equal footing with physical illness.

Clinical adviser for Beyondblue Dr Stephen Carbone said people with poor mental health were at risk of poor physical health as a result, and vice versa.

"It's quite common for people to have mental and physical health conditions to exist side by side," he said.

"Mental health is just as important in its own right as physical health. The message we need to get out there is there needs to be just as much of a focus on mental wellbeing as a focus on physical wellbeing."

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This story Death rate twice as high for people seeking mental health help first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.