A new joint study conducted by researchers from the University of Auckland, the University of Michigan and Duke University has revealed that having poor mental health in youth can lead to experiencing poor physical health later in life.
The study, which was published on Thursday, was conducted over a long period of time, looked at 50 years of births in New Zealand and continued to follow the subjects for 30 years. The researchers found that those admitted to a hospital for mental health reasons had higher rates of mortality during the 30-year period, irrespective of visiting the hospital for their own physical health.
Most strikingly, the study found that those who had been admitted in the past for mental health reasons had a higher chance of future admission for physical health reasons, unrelated to previous physical health-related visits.
Broken down by demographics, results were the same across the board among men and women, and according to mental disorder type and risks to chronic physical health conditions.
Barry Milne from University of Auckland social research centre COMPASS suggested that the results indicate that treating mental health issues can later help physical health.
“Even if the association is not causal, mental disorders are salient early warning signs for later physical health problems and early death,” Milner said.
“This suggests the importance of joined-up healthcare services, for example, embedding physical health screening and prevention into mental health treatment.”
In the study, mental health conditions affected four percent of participants, and were categorized into substance abuse, psychotic disorder, mood disorder, neurotic disorder, self-harm and other disorders.
The chronic health conditions which affected participants likewise impacted 20% of the population, and included gout, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), traumatic brain injury, stroke, myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease and cancer.
The study was published in JAMA Network Open, and was dependent on long-term follow-ups, health records and a chronological sequence.
Additional study on this topic is expected in the near future, using the same subjects and looking into mental health and its connection to dementia.