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Chronic disease and mental health links ignored

Health services need to be urgently overhauled to treat people with two or more chronic conditions who experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, says a leading health policy and research think tank at Victoria University.

The Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University has urged the Federal Government to address the strong link between chronic physical and mental ill health. 

Its latest paper Beyond the Fragments: Preventing the Costs and Consequences of Chronic Physical and Mental Diseases calls for mental illness to be front of mind when developing strategies for chronic disease prevention.

AHPC Director Rosemary Calder said people with two or more chronic conditions have complex needs – with many also suffering from depression and anxiety – but the delivery of health care is shaped around single diseases.

“Evidence suggests that many receive poorer quality care than those with a single condition while outcomes for people with severe mental illness are particularly poor,” Ms Calder said.

“Current health services fall short in providing prevention or early intervention and we urgently need to adjust policy and practice to address this.”

Chronic diseases – many of which are preventable – are now responsible for nine out of ten deaths in Australia. The number of people with two or more chronic illnesses continues to grow rapidly.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show almost 12 per cent of Australians aged between 16 and 85 years – an estimated 1.9 million people – have both a mental disorder and a physical condition.

People with two or more chronic conditions are also more likely to be admitted to hospital, have longer stays and die prematurely.

Ms Calder called for an urgent measured and integrated approach to the prevention, treatment and management of chronic physical and mental conditions.

The paper is the latest in a series ofAHPC reports to identify ways to reduce the risk of preventable chronic diseases.

More than 70 leading health experts contributed to the AHPC’s first report Targets and Indicators for Chronic Disease Prevention in Australia which produced a blueprint to control risk factors for preventable chronic diseases including cutting down on salt, drinking less and moving more.

About the Australian Health Policy Collaboration

The AHPC is a health policy and research think tank that promotes and supports a national policy agenda for the prevention and management of chronic diseases through evidence-based research. AHPC Director Rosemary Calder is available for interview.

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