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Improving physical health for people with severe mental health problems

MAY 14, 2008

Many people with a severe mental illness also have poor physical health. Lifestyle factors including obesity, smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise put these individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.  A research team led by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's Dr Shubulade Smith, undertook  a study to explore how physical health can be monitored and promoted in people receiving treatment for severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or severe affective disorder.

In the study, 966 individuals with severe mental illness joined a well-being support programme which lasted for two years. Following consultations with a mental health nurse, each participant was given a tailored programme of health checks, lifestyle advice and activities such as healthy living and weight management groups.

Before taking part in the programme, only 31 per cent of participants were having regular physical health checks. Most of the participants were found to be overweight and just under half were in the obese weight range. Half of the participants were suffering from high blood pressure; half were smokers; and a high proportion had a poor diet. All of these health risks have the potential to be changed and the researchers recommend that people with severe mental illness are given targeted physical health support to address these problems.
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