People living with schizophrenia in Britain today have a lower average life expectancy than the general population of 1930s Britain, according to a new report by the charity Rethink Mental Illness.
The +20 report, published today (6th October), shows that people with schizophrenia are at risk of dying on average 20 years younger than the current British life expectancy of 81, mainly because of preventable physical illnesses.
This puts their average life expectancy just below the general population of 1930s Britain  – before the creation of the NHS or penicillin was widely available.
People with schizophrenia are also three times more at risk of dying from coronary heart disease than the current general population, and ten times more likely to die from respiratory diseases.
Rethink Mental Illness has published the report as part of the launch of its new +20 campaign, which is fighting for those affected by schizophrenia to have the same life expectancy as everybody else. The campaign, which marks the start of Schizophrenia Awareness Week (6th-10th October), is calling for local health providers to improve physical healthcare for people with mental illness.
The +20 report features heart-breaking case studies of people who have lost a loved one with schizophrenia, because they did not get the support they needed for preventable physical health problems.
Their stories highlight the many factors that put people with schizophrenia at risk – including the impact of antipsychotic medication, lifestyle factors, poor health monitoring by the NHS, and the dismissive attitude of some health professionals towards people with severe mental illness.
It also sets out five things that need to change to help people with schizophrenia have the same life expectancy as the general population. That includes ensuring that they receive proper physical health checks by GPs and mental health professionals, and are given tailored support to give up smoking.
The charity has also reconfirmed its commitment to providing free information and advice to help people with mental illness get the physical healthcare they need, and to improve their own health.
Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said:
“It’s absolutely scandalous that people with schizophrenia today, are dying younger on average than the population of 1930s Britain – an era when the NHS didn’t exist, penicillin wasn’t available, and tuberculosis and smallpox were rife.
“What is most galling is that people with schizophrenia are mainly dying from preventable physical health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. That’s because although they have a much higher risk of physical illnesses than average, they are missing out on crucial support for their physical health.
“This has to change – it is completely inexcusable that so many people are dying unnecessarily. That’s why we’re launching the +20 campaign, to fight to give people with schizophrenia their twenty years back.
“The good news is that the solutions are actually quite simple. It’s about basic things like making sure people are given regular physical health checks, and get tailored help to give up smoking.
“But now we urgently need to see this support being put in place in communities across the country. We will not rest until people with schizophrenia have the same average life expectancy as everyone else.”
Clare Hawes, 52, from Suffolk, features in the +20 report. She lost her brother Mark, who had schizophrenia, after his doctor failed to take him seriously when he complained of severe heart pains.
“Mark was a straight-A student and he ended up getting a scholarship to study Chemistry at Oxford when he was just 16. But that’s when things started to unravel for him.
“He started experimenting with drugs and also contracted meningitis, and things went downhill rapidly. He became increasingly paranoid and thought people were out to get him and could read his mind.
“Eventually Mark got a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and was put on medication. His life changed and things started to get better. He was also incredibly healthy, he didn't smoke and often cycled up to thirty miles a day.
“But he started getting intense chest pains, and went to see his GP twice about it, but they did nothing. The doctor took one look at his notes, saw he had schizophrenia and just dismissed his concerns.
“Things didn’t improve so he went back for a third time, but was again sent home. He died later that same day of a heart attack. I have no doubt he would be alive today if they had only listened to him and taken him seriously. They essentially sent him home to die instead of sending him to hospital.
“If I could say one thing to health professionals it would be this: don’t judge the person in front of you based on their mental health diagnosis. Look at them simply as a person and provide them with the same care as you would anyone else."
For more information, to request a copy of the +20 report, or to set up an interview with a spokesperson or case study, please contact Brian Semple (Senior Media Officer for Rethink Mental Illness) on 0207 840 3043 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
(1) Office for National Statistics, Chapter 4: Mortality, 2010-based NPP (2012). Average life expectancy for people living in Britain in 1930s was 61.4
Rethink Mental Illness is a charity that believes a better life is possible for millions of people affected by mental illness.
For over 40 years we have brought people together to support each other. We run services and support groups that change people’s lives and challenge attitudes about mental illness.
We directly support almost 60,000 people every year across England to get through crises, to live independently and to realise they are not alone.
We give information and advice to 500,000 more and we change policy for millions.
For more information go to www.rethink.org