Health Depends on Mental Health

Untreated Mental Disorders Up Risk of Disease, Injury, and Death

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 04, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 4, 2007 -- Untreated mental disorders vastly increase the world's burden of disease, injury, and early death.

The finding comes from Martin Prince, MD, director of the Center for Public Mental Health at King's College London, and colleagues. The study is the first in The Lancet Global Mental Health Series.

Prince and colleagues note that the World Health Organization estimates that about 14% of the world's disease burden is directly linked to psychiatric and neurological disorders. But they find that mental disorders have a far greater impact than this.

In a review of recent studies of the impact of mental health on overall health, the researchers find that mental illness is not separate from physical illness. Instead, there are many complex interactions between mental disorders and other diseases.

Their report was published in the Sept. 4 online edition of The Lancet.

"Mental disorders are risk factors for the development of communicable and noncommunicable diseases, and contribute to accidental and nonaccidental injuries," Prince and colleagues write.

Poor mental health is linked to health risks such as smoking, inactivity, and bad diet. It increases a person's risk of heart disease and stroke, the researchers note. It also limits a person's ability to avoid or get proper treatment for infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. It increases a person's chances of injury -- and is behind the vast majority of suicides, they explain.

Prince and colleagues estimate that improved mental health treatment could have major impacts on other areas of health. For example, they suggest that better treatment of maternal depression would prevent up to 20% of infant stunting. And they suggest that 15% of suicides could be averted by treatment of major depression.

"We need to act immediately on the existing robust evidence that treatment of [co-existing] mental disorder is highly effective for improvement of mental health and quality of life outcomes across a wide range of disorders including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS," Prince and colleagues argue.