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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

How mental illness can affect your physical health

Ka pēhea te māuiui ā-hinengaro e pāngia tō hauora ā-tinana

People with a mental illness or addiction tend to have worse physical health than other people.

When you have a mental illness or addiction, lifestyle choices can affect your physical health. These include smoking, poor food choices and drug and alcohol use.

Medication can also affect your physical health. Read more about your specific medications, including side effects.

When you have a mental illness, people might assume that some physical symptoms are due to your mental illness. They might actually have a separate cause.

If you have a mental illness, you should have at least one physical health check-up with your general practice team every year. As part of this check-up you may need blood tests to check your kidneys, liver, blood count and cholesterol. You may also need a blood test to check for diabetes.

Ask if your general practice has any funding to partly or fully pay for your check-up. If you are under specialist community mental health care, they may carry out your physical health check. They will refer you back to your general practice team if needed. Read more about financial support for health costs.

Specific health issues

Heart problems

People with mental illness have a higher risk of heart problems, including heart attack.

Your general practice team can help you do a Heart risk assessment or you can do it yourself. This gives an estimate of how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke within the next five years. It takes into account your health and risk factors.

The age to start having heart risk assessments depends on your sex, ethnicity and other risk factors. See Heart risk assessment for details.


You can have an increased risk of developing diabetes. Especially if you are taking antipsychotic medication or are overweight and inactive.


People with mental illness often do not get diagnosed with cancer as early as other people. It is important to take part in screening programmes where they are available:

Talk to your general practice team if you have any concerns about cancer. Also see Reducing my risk of cancer.

Teeth and gum (oral) health

Having healthy teeth and gums is important for your health. Look after them and have regular dental check ups.

See Mouth problems with psychiatric medications.

There are some options for subsidised dental treatment. See Dental care for adults for more information.

Other health issues

People with mental illness or addiction may make risky choices with sexual partners. This can put them at risk of sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancies.

Sexual contact and injecting drugs increases the risk of getting blood-borne infections. These infections include HIV & AIDS and hepatitis C. Things like tattooing with non-sterile needles also increases the risk.

On the next page: Keeping physically healthy with a mental illness or addiction

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2023.


Page reference: 416425

Review key: HIPMH-416421