8 million deaths a year linked to mental illness

Approximately eight million deaths each year are attributable to mental illness.

This “mortality gap” between people with mental disorders and the general population has been increasing since before 1970, researchers say.

The analysis of 203 research articles included mental disorders overall, and specific diagnoses such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. The researchers considered studies of both people who were hospitalized and those treated in the community.

Mortality gap

“Our findings show that individuals with mental health disorders have a risk of mortality that is two times higher than the general population,” says lead author Elizabeth Reisinger Walker, a fellow in the health policy and management department at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“This translates to about 10 years of life lost for people with mental disorders.”

The results “indicate that the mortality gap may apply to people with a variety of mental health disorders,” Reisinger and colleagues write in the paper, published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. “People with these disorders are not experiencing the increased life expectancy of the general population.”


The relationship between mental health disorders and mortality is complicated because most people with those disorders don’t die of their conditions; instead, they die of chronic diseases such as heart disease, infections, suicide, or other causes.

In addition, people with mental health disorders tend to have higher rates of chronic disease risk factors, including tobacco smoking, substance abuse, physical inactivity, and poor diet.

A variety of approaches are necessary to address the different causes of death, ranging from suicide prevention to prevention and care of chronic medical conditions, the authors conclude.

Benjamin Druss, professor of health policy and management and graduate student Robin McGee are coauthors of the study. The National Institute of Mental Health and a National Institute of General Medical Sciences career development award provided funding.

Source: Emory University