The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and Mitchell Institute have jointly commissioned new data: The economic costs of serious mental illness and comorbidities in Australia and New Zealand. 

This report highlights the significant inequalities, including substantially shorter lives, experienced by people with severe mental illnesses. Some estimates suggest that the lives of both men and women with severe mental illness are up to 30% shorter than those of the general population. Whilst higher rates of suicide account for some of this burden, most of this excess mortality is a consequence of physical diseases including diabetes, respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease and cancer. A proportion of this burden is potentially avoidable.

These figures illuminate the scale of the human suffering caused by the crisis of poorly managed chronic disease amongst people with severe mental illnesses. There is an urgent, humanitarian need for action to transform these outcomes. There is also an economic case to be made. The RANZCP report estimates that in 2014, the additional cost of the physical illness burden of people with severe mental illnesses was $56.7 billion in Australia. This represents 3.5% of GDP. The outcomes discussed in this report appear to reflect very poor value for money from this expenditure.

The economic data discussed in this report extends the analysis of the Mitchell Institute report  Beyond the Fragments. These reports add to the growing body of evidence about the strength of the associations between mental and physical health and the need for a radical, new policy agenda to create a more integrated and effective approach to prevention and management of concurrent diseases.

Turning the spotlight on the poor health outcomes of people with both long-term physical and mental health problems marks an important beginning to a radical change process. Pointing to the lives and billions of dollars wasted because of a failure to coordinate mental and physical health needs becomes a compelling ambition when healthcare resources are so tight.

Mitchell Institute has summarised the key policy issues arising from the RANZCP report in a short paper.