Physical and mental health are fundamentally linked in the body, but disconnected in Australia’s health system.

Looking after our physical health is important. For people living with mental illness, maintaining physical health can be more challenging.

Similarly, looking after your mental health when you have a chronic physical condition can be difficult.

Latest Australian data show 2.4 million Australians live with both a mental health condition and chronic physical disease. This population is at much greater risk of dying early – people with severe mental health illness have a gap in life expectancy of 10-15 years. More than three quarters of the excess death comes from chronic physical health conditions. Many of these deaths are preventable.

Australians living with multiple chronic diseases are not only dying earlier but also have poorer health outcomes. This cohort are much more likely than the general population to have another chronic disease, experience a lower quality of life and are higher cost users of health care.

We need to improve prevention and early intervention. We know people living with a mental health condition are at increased risk of developing a chronic physical condition, and also that people with a physical health condition are more likely to develop a mental health condition. Despite these interactions, we do not have systematic approaches to identifying people at risk and intervening early.

We propose the following policy and practice recommendations for a connected approach to physical and mental health:

  • promote absolute cardiovascular risk assessments for people living with mental health conditions
  • implement routine mental health checks for people with chronic physical disease
  • invest in a shared risk factor approach for people living with mental health conditions