School of Population Health

Duty to Care report

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Preventable physical illness in people with mental illness.

This unique study has examined the health experience of 240,000 Western Australians who have used mental health services during 1980-98 (representing about 8 per cent of the population at any one time).

Using de-identified data, their hospital admission rates, cancer incidence rates and death rates have been examined. Comprehensive research of this nature has never been possible before anywhere in the world.

Overview of the study

People with mental illness are among the most marginalised people in our community. The consequences of mental illness often extend beyond the direct symptoms of the illness to affect people’s social and economic well being and all aspects of their lives. The aim of this study was to examine the physical health of people with mental illness. The purpose was to provide data that can be used to improve health services and design health promotion activities that can be specifically targeted at people with mental illness.

People with mental illness are often isolated from family and friends. Mental illness can also affect people’s job prospects and make it difficult to secure and retain full-time employment. They face a continual stigma based on fear of mental illness. The separation of medical care for physical illness from psychiatric care often fragments the total care offered to this group. These factors combined often lead to people with mental illness not receiving adequate health care in relation to their health needs.

This study was able to determine the extent to which users of mental health services (who comprise 8 per cent of the population of WA) have different rates of physical illness compared to the general population for the period 1980–98. The study compared deaths, the total number of cancers that were diagnosed and hospital admission rates in people with mental illness with the general population.

The reports describe the main findings of the study. More detailed description of the study is contained in the report “Preventable physical illness in people with mental illness”.

It is hoped that the results of this study can be used to improve the way the health system treats physical illnesses in people with mental illness.


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Last updated:
Tuesday, 16 September, 2014 12:27 PM