Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects how a person behaves, thinks, and sees the world. It can majorly impact a person's daily life, making it difficult to keep relationships. Common symptoms of schizophrenia include disorganized speech, disturbances in thinking, withdrawal from society, erratic behavior, deluded thinking, and seeing, tasting, or hearing things that aren't there.

People with this psychiatric disorder may not identify what is real or hallucinated. Schizophrenia can also interfere with regular activities such as attending meetings and engaging in conversations. Treatment for schizophrenia includes therapy, counseling, lifestyle changes, and medication to reduce symptoms.

How long do people with schizophrenia live on average?

In an analysis of 11 studies published in 13 publications covering the continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America, which involved 247 603 patients, schizophrenia was associated with premature death. This means that people with schizophrenia tend to live significantly shorter lives than the general population. The studies concluded that men with schizophrenia lose an average of 15.9 years of life, and women with schizophrenia lose around 13.6 years.

These findings show that, on average, men with schizophrenia have an average life expectancy of 59.9 years and women 67.6 years. The effect that schizophrenia has on potential years of life lost did not seem to change over time. [1]

Why do people with schizophrenia have a lower life expectancy?

Extrapolation of health study results from the general population to schizophrenic patients may not be appropriate. From a genetic perspective, schizophrenia may alter disease risk, conferring disadvantages in some areas and advantages in others. In addition, optimal treatment for patients with schizophrenia may require a compromise between mental and physical health.

Despite the significant advances in treatment and medical care, improved understanding of schizophrenia, and advocacy efforts focused on this population, individuals with schizophrenia:

  • Remain at elevated risk for serious cardiovascular disease, including heartattacks. This risk can be up to ten times greater than their peers without schizophrenia due to various risk factors such as the greater prevalence of unhealthy lifestyle choices, inadequate preventative health services, poor disease management, and more significant comorbidities associated with the severe mental illness itself. [2]
  • Suffer from other comorbidities, such as metabolic diseases, including diabetes and elevated lipids.
  • Can present medical conditions that increase the risk for premature mortality in patientswith schizophrenia, such as low birth weight, an associated cause of the mental health condition.
  • May not receive the necessary treatment or understand the interactions and complications that can come from underlying disorders.
  • Experience medication side effects from drugs they need to keep their mental illness under control. This is problematic in this demographic, contributing to many barriers to optimal care.
  • Smoke at significantly higher rates than the general public. One study found that 48% of individuals with a serious mental illness, defined as either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, were smokers. [3]. Not surprisingly, this can lead to other problems, such as an increased risk of developing a wide range of secondary illnesses, shorter life expectancy, and economic consequences due to additional medical costs.
  • Have an increased risk of suicideor experiencing an accidental death. Various studies suggest these individuals are 40% more likely to die in this way than the general population.

These points underline this mental illness's severity and demonstrate the importance of providing sufferers with the proper support. [4]

How to manage schizophrenia to improve your life expectancy

Self-management interventions aim at empowering individuals to manage their own health. They should be prioritized along with standard care to improve function, quality of life, and life expectancy. These include:

  • Education about their mental illness and treatment to make informed decisions on interventions and care
  • Awareness of health risks associated with schizophrenia to allow them to watch for signs of disease, get check-ups, and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle when possible
  • Skills to recognize warning signs of relapse and episodes requiring medical attention
  • Coping skills (through therapy) for dealing with symptoms that persist
  • Setting personal goals to improve the sense of hope [5]

It is our obligation as a society to do more to protect the health of people with schizophrenia by providing culturally and linguistically competent healthcare services and better public education to promote healthy behaviors among this population. [6]

Resources:

  1. Hjorthøj, C., Stürup, A. E., McGrath, J. J., & Nordentoft, M. (2017). Years of potential life lost and life expectancy in schizophrenia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry, 4(4), 295–301. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30078-0
  2. Columbia University Irving Medical Center. (2015, October 28). Untimely deaths in people with schizophrenia. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from  https://www.cuimc.columbia.edu/news/untimely-deaths-people-schizophrenia
  3. Kalkhoran, S.,  Thorndike, A.N., Rigotta, N.A., Fung, V., & Baggett, T. P. (2019). Cigarette smoking and quitting-related factors among US adult health center patients with serious mental illness. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 34, 986-991. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-04857-3
  4. Wildgust, H. J., Hodgson, R., & Beary, M. (2010). The paradox of premature mortality in schizophrenia: New research questions. Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 24(4_supplement), 9–15. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359786810382149
  5. Lean, M., Fornells-Ambrojo, M., Milton, A., Lloyd-Evans, B., Harrison-Stewart, B., Yesufu-Udechuku, A., Kendall, T., & Johnson, S. (2019). Self-management interventions for people with severe mental illness: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 214(5), 260–268. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2019.54
  6. World Health Organization. (2022, January 10). Schizophrenia. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/schizophrenia