Mental Illness Need Not Be a Death Sentence, Allan Fels Warns

People with a serious mental illness are dying on average 14 to 23 years earlier than other Australians, prompting a push for a ­national focus on delivering longer, healthier, happier lives.

National Mental Health Commission chairman Allan Fels said yesterday it was neither acceptable nor inevitable that people with mental illness had poorer physical health and died sooner.

mental illness focus for government

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Ahead of a speech to the ­National Press Club, Professor Fels said people with a mental illness were six times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease and four times more likely to die of respiratory disease.

Without better screening, early diagnosis and prompt and well-managed treatment, such physical health issues become a burden on both the individual and the broader health system.

“Often physical health needs are overshadowed by their mental health condition,” Professor Fels said. “This leads to physical conditions being undiagnosed and untreated, which can prove fatal.

“Equitable access to healthcare is a basic human right for all Australians.

“We need to improve outcomes for people who live with a mental illness and reduce the life expectancy gap.”

The commission has developed an Equally Well Statement, which has the support of 53 governments and organisations and centres on six principles: a holistic, person-centred approach to physical and mental health and wellbeing; effective promotion, prevention and early intervention; equity of access to all services; improving quality of health care; care co-ordination and regional integration across health, mental health and other services and sectors; and monitoring of progress towards improved physical health and wellbeing.

This article was originally published by The Australian.

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