A study has revealed an association between mental disorders and premature mortality in the Catalan population

Evidence suggests that people with mental disorders have a significantly shorter life expectancy, around 10 years less than the general population. Furthermore, the risk of premature death has increased recently in this group. However, until now, it had not been examined whether this situation also occurs in our territory and if the factors associated with higher risk are the same.

A team from Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu · Institut de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu (IRSJD), was comprised of Drs. Josep Maria Haro and Beatriz Olaya, and biostatistician Maria Victoria Moneta. In the Catalonia region, researchers have looked at health records data to see if there is a connection between mental disorders and the risk of premature death and which factors may play a part.

"We think that our findings have the potential to furnish valuable data to our healthcare service, enabling us to implement more targeted public health policies for this demographic and mitigate the incidence of premature mortality" comments Dr Josep Maria Haro, Director of Teaching, Research, and Innovation at Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu and coordinator of the research group "Epidemiology of Mental Disorders and Aging" at IRSJD.

The research team has analyzed data from over 500,000 individuals over 18 years of age treated by the Catalan Health Service between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2016, and identified at least one of the following mental health disorders: schizophrenia, mood disorder, delusional disorder, psychosis, anxiety, stress, adaptation reaction, or depression.

The gender and the age are two key factors

The results show that the risk of mortality is associated with the gender and age of each individual. The risk of premature death for men was higher than for women, and it was more pronounced in younger age groups.

"According to us, this gender difference is primarily explained by psychosocial factors. Due to gender stereotypes and cultural barriers, men tend to consult medical specialists less often and share their mental health problems less often. Furthermore, men have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, which is associated with both severe mental disorders and mortality. These two factors, among others, may account for the disparity between men and women" comments Dr. Beatriz Olaya, a researcher from the "Epidemiology of Mental Disorders and Aging" group at IRSJD.

The research team observed that premature mortality varied according to age. The higher risk of mental disorders in younger people (aged 18-31 years) could be attributed to a greater exposure to factors like drug use, impulsive actions, and suicidal thoughts.

An analysis based on the medical records of patients from Catalonia

This is the first study conducted on Catalan data that examines premature mortality associated with various mental disorders. It provides further scientific evidence that strengthens this association and provides valuable information for public health systems.

"During our analysis, we not only included severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, but also examined the impact of premature death in patients with less severe mental disorders, such as anxiety. This way, we were able to provide a much more comprehensive picture of the real risk." comments Dr. Beatriz Olaya, the lead author of the article.

For example, the study reveals that among patients with affective disorders, such as anxiety or stress, they had a higher mortality rate than the group with major depression. It also emphasizes the significance of taking into account the co-occurring nature of other disorders or conditions in patients with mental health disorders in order to provide a more comprehensive approach.

Early identification of these vulnerable groups and appropriate personalized interventions are essential for reducing the risk of premature death. Therefore, it is crucial to provide comprehensive mental health care in order to prevent severe illnesses, improve patients' quality of life, and reduce mortality risk.

This study is led by researchers from Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu and Institut de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu. It is the most comprehensive one conducted in Southern Europe. It examined data from individuals diagnosed with mental disorders, as well as data from individuals with less severe mental disorders, such as affective disorders or anxiety. The results of this study have been published in the scientific journal Psychiatry Research.

Reference paper

Olaya B, Moneta MV, Plana O, Haro JM. Association between mental disorders and mortality: A register-based cohort study  from the region of Catalonia. Psychiatry Res. 2023;320:115037-115037. IF:11,225. (Q1).