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Psychiatr Serv. 1999 Aug;50(8):1036-42.

Life expectancy and causes of death in a population treated for serious mental illness.

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  • 1Southeastern Rural Mental Health Research Center, University of Virginia, Charlottesville 22908, USA.



This cross-sectional mortality linkage study describes the prevalence of specific fatal disease and injury conditions in an adult population with serious mental illness. The large sample of decedents and the use of multiple-cause-of-death data yield new clinical details relevant to those caring for persons with serious mental illness.


Age-adjusted frequency distributions and years of potential life lost were calculated by gender and causes of death for persons in the population of 43,274 adults served by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health who died between 1989 and 1994. Means and frequencies of these variables were compared with those for persons in the general population of the state who did not receive departmental services and who died during the same period.


A total of 1,890 adult decedents served by the department of mental health were identified by electronic linkage of patient and state vital records. They had a significantly higher frequency of deaths from accidental and intentional injuries, particularly poisoning by psychotropic medications. Deaths from cancer, diabetes, and circulatory disorders were significantly less frequently reported. On average, decedents who had been served by the department of mental health lost 8.8 more years of potential life than decedents in the general population-a mean of 14.1 years for men and 5.7 for women. The differential was consistent across most causes of death.


Findings in this study are consistent with previous findings identifying excess mortality in a population with serious mental illness. The high rate of injury deaths, especially those due to psychotropic and other medications, should concern providers.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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