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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

An ‘epidemic within an epidemic’ – the physical health needs of young people with severe mental illness

Embargoed until 03 October 2012

A special article published in today’s (1 October 2012) The Psychiatrist argues that clinicians should not dismiss problems such as weight gain and obesity in young patients being treated for psychosis.


The paper highlights that of the 7,500 people who develop a psychosis in England each year, many face a future compromised by poor physical health in addition to psychological difficulties. Antipsychotic drugs often lead to rapid weight gain and increases in cholesterol, compromising the patient’s broader health and well being.


The authors argue that to ignore the potentially serious cardiac and metabolic consequences of these younger patients could be to condone health inequalities.


Men with a diagnosis of psychosis live 20 years less than the general population, while women with the diagnosis live 15 years less, with evidence that this ‘mortality gap’ may be widening.


The authors say: “Behind this ‘scandal of premature mortality’ lies a reality that mental and physical disorders frequently co-exist, often intertwined with social exclusion and restricted opportunity, bringing with it all the problems of disadvantage.”

The article highlights the context of a dramatic rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes in young people and states: “Given the rapid demographic shift in patterns of obesity, the impact on weight gain for young people with psychosis may be disproportionately greater, adding more evidence to our concern that we are witnessing an epidemic within an epidemic.”


The authors argue that although the relative importance of genetics, demographics and antipsychotic medication is unclear, it is certain is that young people acquire cardiovascular risk factors very quickly in the early phase of psychosis.


They argue for a more preventive approach towards treatment for young people as well as greater choice for patients in their treatment options.

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Sue Bailey, Clare Gerada, Helen Lester, David Shiers. The cardiovascular health of young people with severe mental illness: addressing an epidemic within an epidemic. The Psychiatrist, 1 October 2012


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