Mental illness means higher risk of physical problems

Adults who had a mental illness in the past year have higher rates of certain physical illnesses than those not experiencing mental illness, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

For example, 21.9% of adults in a SAMHSA national survey who experienced any mental illness (based on diagnostic criteria specified in DSM-iv) in the past year had hypertension. Meanwhile, 18.3% of those without any mental illness had hypertension.

And 15.7% of adults who had any mental illness in the past year also had asthma, while 10.6% of those without mental illness had the condition.

Adults who had a serious mental illness (a mental illness causing serious functional impairment that substantially interferes with one or more major life activities) in the past year also showed higher rates of hypertension, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and stroke than did people who did not experience serious mental illnesses.

Adults experiencing major depressive episodes (periods of depression lasting two weeks or more including significant problems with every-day aspects of life such as sleep, eating, feelings of self-worth, etc.) had higher rates of the following physical illnesses than those without major depressive episodes in the past year: hypertension (24.1% vs. 19.8%), asthma (17% vs. 11.4%), diabetes (8.9% vs. 7.1%), heart disease (6.5% vs. 4.6%) and stroke (2.5% vs. 1.1%).

The report also shows significant differences in ED use and hospitalization rates in the past year between adults with mental illness in the past year and those without. For example, 47.6% of adults with serious mental illness in the past year used EDs, as opposed to 30.5% of those without past-year serious mental illness. Adults with past-year serious mental illness were more likely to have been hospitalized than those without (20.4% versus 11.6% respectively).

“Behavioral health is essential to health. This is a key SAMHSA message and is underscored by this data,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, JD, said in a news release. “Promoting health and wellness for individuals, families and communities means treating behavioral health needs with the same commitment and vigor as any other physical health condition. Communities, families and individuals cannot achieve health without addressing behavioral health.”

Since 2009, SAMHSA has funded the Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration program, which works to improve the physical health status of people with serious mental illness and those with co-occurring substance use disorders by supporting community efforts to coordinate and integrate primary care services into publicly funded community-based behavioral health settings.

Currently 64 community behavioral health providers receive the PBHCI grant, with the expected outcome of entering into partnerships to develop or expand their offering of primary healthcare services, resulting in improved health status for their clients. As of March, more than 17,500 adults with serious mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use disorders have been served through the PBHCI program. More information about the program is available at

The SAMHSA report is available at

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