Researchers from the University of Otago in Australia analyzed retrospective data generated from the World Health Surveys of more than 47,000 adults in 17 countries. Survey participants were asked to report the year of onset of their mental illness diagnosis (based on DSM-IV criteria) as well as any chronic physical condition (e.g., heart disease, cancer, chronic pulmonary disease diabetes mellitus, and arthritis) and the year it was diagnosed.
The single physical condition most strongly associated with an earlier diagnosis of a mental disorder was chronic pulmonary disease, followed by chronic pain disorders, peptic ulcers, heart disease, and diabetes mellitus. Cancer had the weakest association with an earlier diagnosis of a mental disorder.
“The study findings need to be confirmed in prospective designs, but they suggest that the deleterious effects of mental disorders on physical health (if causal) accumulate over the life course,” the study authors wrote. “If this is the case, then given the early onset of most mental disorders and the similarly early etiopathogenesis of many chronic physical conditions, treatment of all mental disorders should optimally incorporate attention to physical health and health behaviors, with this parallel focus on physical health beginning as early in the course of the mental disorder as possible.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Board Approves Statement on Role in Reducing Physical Health Disparities.”