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Mental health and chronic conditions

FACTSHEET October 2020 (ACDPA & Equally Well Alliance)

People with mental illness are dying prematurely

  • Over 10,000 people with mental illness die prematurely from chronic diseases each year. That is equivalent to 28 people every day.

  • Chronic diseases cause 10 times more premature deaths than suicide for people with mental illness. These include heart disease and stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease and respiratory conditions.

  • There is an unacceptable life-expectancy gap of up to 15 years between people with mental illness and people in the general population. Their mental health conditions are treated but their physical health is neglected.

  • Eighty percent of people with mental illness also have a serious physical health condition, which is often not diagnosed or treated.

  • People with mental illness not in full-time employment and from lower socio-economic areas are up to five times more likely to die prematurely.


Disease burden is increased due to risk factors and access disparities 

  • Many chronic diseases share modifiable risk factors like smoking, overweight and obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.

  • People with mental illness have much lower rates of health service access for screening, treatment, and surgical interventions.

  • People with a mental illness have a much higher prevalence of certain risk factors compared to the general population:

    • Women with mental illness are nearly 70 percent more likely to smoke.

    • Men are nearly 40 percent more likely to smoke.

    • Women with mental illness are eight percent more likely to be inactive. Men with mental illness are 11 percent more likely to be inactive.

    • Around one in three people with mental illness are obese, compared to around one in four people in the general population.

    • In people with psychosis, obesity rates can be as high as 45 percent. 

Much chronic disease burden could be prevented

  • One in two Australians have a chronic disease. One in five Australians have multiple chronic conditions.

  • Chronic diseases are the leading cause of premature death in Australia. But nearly 40 percent of chronic disease burden could be prevented by addressing modifiable risk factors.

  • Nearly half of all potentially preventable hospitalisations are due to chronic conditions.

  • Four in five Australians with mental illness have a serious chronic disease. Over half (55 percent) have two or more coexisting chronic diseases.

  • In people with severe mental illness, almost 70 percent of early deaths due to heart disease are preventable.

  • Risk assessment and early detection could halt or delay the progression of chronic conditions and reduce avoidable complications and adverse outcomes.


Download the full factsheet on mental and physical health (incl references).

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