Excess mortality among long-stay psychiatric patients in Northern Finland

Sami Räsänen, Helinä Hakko, Kaisa Viilo, V Benno Meyer-Rochow, Juha Moring
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2003, 38 (6): 297-304

BACKGROUND: According to several studies, mortality in psychiatric patients is higher than in the general population, but cause-specific mortality analyses in long-stay psychiatric patients have not been studied very much. Individual follow-ups have been called for in order to identify possible treatment deficiencies and to make recommendations for clinical practices. In this study, mortality of long-stay psychiatric patients has been monitored for the years 1992-2000 and contrasted with that prevalent in the general population.

METHOD: Data on psychiatric patients (N = 253) who were treated without a break for at least 6 months during 1992 in the Department of Psychiatry at Oulu University Hospital were linked with the National Death Register. Standardised mortality rates (SMRs) were determined according to gender, age groups, and different causes of death.

RESULTS: Of the total study population, 80.2 % had schizophrenia, 5.1 % other functional psychoses, 9.5 % organic mental disorders, 2.4 % personality disorders and 2.8 % mood disorders. Sixty-nine (27.3 %) of the patients (aged 31-88 years) had died before the end of the year 2000. The all-cause death risk for both males and females was four times that of the general population. The mortality risk was over ten-fold for males and almost 30-fold for females in the youngest age group (25-34 years), with suicides explaining about 75 % of these deaths. SMRs were found to decrease at older age, mortality thus approaching that of the general population. Diseases of the circulatory system were the most common single cause of death in both genders and mortality due to that cause exceeding mortality in the general population nearly 3.6-fold. However, the probability of death was highest (SMR 17.5) in connection with diseases of the digestive system. Increased risks of death due to respiratory complications (SMR 9.3), accidents (SMR 5.1) and neoplasms (SMR 2.1) were also noted. The overall death rates did not differ in relation to social class or professional education.

CONCLUSIONS: Long-stay psychiatric patients were found to die from the same natural causes as the rest of the general population. However, the mortality risk of the long-stay psychiatric patients compared with that of the general population was notably higher, despite ongoing improvements in medical care and facilities. Inadequately organised somatic care and the prevailing culture of "non-somatic" treatment in psychiatry were suggested to, at least in part, explain this phenomenon. Attention ought to increasingly focus on somatic examinations and various health educational programmes specially designed for psychiatric patients and involving matters like healthy diet, smoking cessation and physical exercise. These practices should be a regular part of any patient's treatment programme. Also, the need to recognise factors associated with a patient's psychiatric disorder that could limit that patient's ability to communicate somatic symptoms and/or even lead to a refusal by that patient to have somatic diseases treated was seen as essential for providers of psychiatric services.

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