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HealthInfo Canterbury

How mental illness can affect your physical health

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

When you have a mental illness or addiction, some lifestyle choices can have major effects on 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're diagnosed with a mental illness, people might assume that some physical symptoms are due to your mental illness, when they really have a separate cause.

If you've been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, psychosis or serious addiction, you should have at least one physical health check-up with your GP every year. As part of this check you may need blood tests to check your kidneys, liver, blood count, cholesterol, and for diabetes.

When you make your appointment, ask if your general practice has any funding to partly or fully pay for your check. If you're under specialist community mental health care, they may carry out your physical health check. They'll refer you back to your GP if needed. Read more about financial support for health costs.

Specific health issues

Heart problems

People with serious mental illness are at higher risk of heart problems, including heart attack.

Your GP or nurse can help you do a Heart risk assessment or you can do it yourself. A heart risk assessment 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 you should start having heart risk assessments depends on your sex, ethnicity and other risk factors. See Heart risk assessment for details.

Diabetes

You can be at increased risk of developing diabetes, particularly if you're taking antipsychotic medication or are overweight and inactive.

Cancer

People with mental illness often don't get diagnosed with cancer as early as other people. It's important to take part in screening programmes where they're available:

Talk to your GP if you have any concerns about cancer. Also see Steps to reduce your cancer risk.

Teeth and gum (oral) health

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

If you're taking medication for your mental illness, see Oral 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 sometimes make choices with sexual partners that put them at risk of sexually transmitted infections, or unplanned pregnancies.

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

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

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2020.

Sources

Page reference: 416425

Review key: HIPMH-416421