Bad Health Care And Medications Are Killing People With Schizophrenia

A packet of pills. The health care system may be failing those with schizophrenia. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images

Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition affecting the ability to think clearly and manage emotions. Now, new research suggests it may also eliminate up to eight years from the life span of people living with the diagnosis.

The study, published online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at all deaths in Ontario from 1993 to 2012. At each year of their lives, individuals with schizophrenia have a mortality rate three times higher than those without the condition, according to the report. Ultimately, this results in a life span eight years shorter than average—64.7 versus 67.8.

Certain demographics were affected more than others. For example, women, young people, and individuals from lower-income neighborhoods who were living with schizophrenia were more likely experience these life-expectancy discrepancies than other patients. Although living in a lower-incomes neighborhood is often associated with reduced mortality, lead author Paul Kurdyak, a clinician at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, told Newsweek that he's not sure why women have the lowest life span.

Although these specific numbers were collected in Canada, Kurdyak told Newsweek that similar trends have also been observed in other parts of the world, including the United States.

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The condition itself does not seem the be the direct cause of these early deaths. Rather, these patients appear to be dying from the same diseases that kill the rest of us: cancer and heart disease. However, individuals living with schizophrenia may not not receive the same public health interventions and care as other members of the public, thus leading them to die sooner than someone without the condition.

In addition, some side effects of the disease, such as the weight gain associated with many schizophrenia medications, can also cause health risks. Having schizophrenia can make it more difficult to manage other health conditions.

"Having both a serious mental illness like schizophrenia and a medical illness like diabetes is enormously challenging. Having schizophrenia makes managing an illness like diabetes, including ensuring diabetes-specific nutrition, taking medication regularly, and checking blood sugars very difficult, resulting in greater diabetes-related complications," Kurdyak wrote. "Further, having to go to multiple specialists at different sites to get sufficient care further complicates things."

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Whether these results will help ensure that people living with schizophrenia obtain the care they need remains to be seen.