This is the third installment in a series of articles related to the factors that put people with serious mental illness at higher risk of mortality. People with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than the average person, and the reasons are largely preventable. Here we focus on the prevalence of obesity and associated conditions in those with dual disorders.
According to a report published by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) Medical Directors Council, “Obesity among persons with serious mental disorders is far greater than among the general population. “
Obesity as a health concern across the country has gotten broad attention from doctors, schools, media, and even the White House. An emphasis on good nutrition and physical activity has become the mainstream solution. But what role does mental illness play in the rise in obesity? And how, then, does obesity affect overall health and physical wellness?
People who are depressed or anxious might often eat to self-medicate. Think about the way “comfort foods” make many people feel better. It stands to reason that people who struggle to manage their emotions turn to food, most of which is likely unhealthy, to find relief. Binge eating or simply making poor diet choices can lead to obesity.
Of course, obesity also can be caused by the treatment of mental illness. Medications to manage mood or anxiety can result in weight gain. People experiencing that side effect should be monitored; fear of gaining weight could cause them to take themselves off their medication.
Medical conditions caused in part by obesity become subsequent risk factors for poor health that can cause early death. Among them: gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and high cholesterol. All of those conditions are preventable, but certainly are more complex to control in people with dual diagnoses.
The most effective interventions combine nutrition, diet and exercise education and counseling, along with behavioral strategies to help patients acquire the skills and supports needed to change eating patterns and to become physically active.
At our residential treatment programs for dual disorders, we encourage a whole-life approach to wellness and recovery, providing information and encouraging family support.
Stay tuned for a series of articles on our blog related to preventable causes of death for those with mental disorders and resources for support. Subscribe to our email newsletter and join our Facebook community for more information and updates on topics that affect you or your loved ones.
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