Mental Health Problems Kill More People Than Smoking

Mental Health Problems Kill More People Than Smoking

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This post was originally published on May 28, 2014.

Everyone thinks smoking is sooooo bad for your health, because duh—it totally is. But what do we hear way, way less about? All the ways that mental illness can affect someone’s health and longevity in the long term. The rather shocking reality, as this study found, is pretty staggering: Mental disorders can actually lessen life expectancy by 10 to 20 years: as much as or even more than smoking over 20 cigarettes a day. Whoa. Just…whoa.

The Reason Behind It

Aside from mental illness sufferers being more likely to kill themselves, it’s unclear how mental disorders could be causing so many early deaths. Researchers used data from 1.7 million patients, “drawing from 20 recent scientific reviews and studies from mostly wealthy countries.” They found that women with postpartum depression have a mortality rate more than seven times higher than a smoker. People with substance abuse problems and anorexia also had higher mortality rates than smokers. (Of course, the mortality rates for those treating those issues aren’t higher than the rates for so-called normies.)

These kinds of figures only illustrate the sad truth that mental illness isn’t prioritized as a legitimate and dangerous health concern in America—governments need to start making mental health more of a priority. As Dr. Seena Fazel says: “So much emphasis has been placed on reducing smoking and smoking deaths. Mental illness doesn’t receive the same attention in public health and public policy.”

Help Wanted

But…why? Is it that mental illness is stigmatized? Ignored? Feared? Misunderstood? Or just not taken seriously as a valid health risk beyond simply having, well, a broken brain? I think it’s all of the above, honestly. And it would be great if the recent rash of suicides by fairly prominent young people would actually drill it into the heads of citizens, lawmakers, doctors and researchers: Suicide is killing us. It’s killing 20-somethings, and 30-somethings, and ages way beyond. It’s killing people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

And guess what? People without mental illness generally won’t resort to killing themselves. Suicide is a serious and desperate  last resort—not one that non-ill people would ever consider lightly. Until the mental illnesses behind so many suicides is taken seriously, screened for and treated, sick people will keep devolving into misery—and dying young.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.