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Commission calls for urgent action to improve the physical health of those with mental health difficulties

24 May 2013

Media Release

The National Mental Health Commission is urging attendees of today’s National Summit on mental health and physical health in Sydney to commit to meaningful action that will improve the physical health of those with mental health difficulties.
The Summit will be hosted by the Commonwealth Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, The Hon. Mark Butler and the New South Wales Minister for Mental Health and Healthy Lifestyles, The Hon. Kevin Humphries. It has been called in response to growing community concerns and evidence about inequities in the physical health of people with mental illness.

Prof. Allan Fels, Chair of the National Mental Commission will be participating in the Summit and says: “The physical health of people with mental illness is a scandal that receives almost no attention. People with mental health problems are dying decades younger than the general population, and their wellbeing must be given a higher priority in all areas of health.”

Physical health was a major focus of the Commissions’ first National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in 2012. In the Report Card the Commission called for all governments to set targets and work together to reduce early death and improve the physical health of people with people illness.

“We all know that possible concurrent issues like smoking, poor nutrition and physical inactivity have a major bearing on physical health. However, most Australians may not know that some antipsychotic medications prescribed to manage mental illnesses such as schizophrenia also contribute to the likelihood of developing chronic physical disorders.

“Importantly, all government funded mental health related programs must be measured on how they support people to achieve better physical health and longer lives, and enduring mental illness must be given the status of a chronic disease to give it higher national focus and support,” Prof. Fels says.

Key facts:
• One in five Australians experience a mental health difficulty in any given year
• The physical health of people living with a mental health difficulty is worse than those in the general community on just about every measure, while people with severe mental illness live between 10-32 years less than the general population
• People with illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia have heart-related problems, diabetes and obesity at much higher rates than the rest of the community
• People with mental health difficulties have lower access to the health services they need, potentially contributing to premature death

Contact: Ben Hornbrook, 0431 180 161 /

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