Health

Mental health nurses 'set bad example to patients'

Patient with dementia
Image caption Nearly 40,000 people in the South West suffer from dementia

Poor physical health is rife among people with severe mental illness in the UK, a study shows.

The study leader said mental health nurses might be partly to blame for setting a bad example.

High levels of obesity, heart disease and diabetes were found among 782 patients with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The University of East Anglia study suggests this is why their life expectancy is much reduced.

Some studies suggest the life expectancy of people with severe mental illness is as much as 25 years shorter than that of the general population.

The latest work, published in BMC Psychiatry, adds to evidence that physical health, not mental health issues, such as suicide, are primarily to blame.

It found that inactivity, poor diet, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption were the norm.

A high number of the participants were being prescribed drugs known as atypical antipsychotic drugs, which are associated with weight gain.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Gray, of UEA's School of Nursing and Midwifery, said: "Mental health nurses do a tough job and are compassionate and highly committed.

"But they do not tend to be skilled at managing the physical health of their patients."

Bad example

Professor Gray said that many mental health nurses often did not follow a healthy lifestyle themselves.

His previous research has showed that mental health workers have a higher rate of smoking than the general population.

He suggested that their bad habits might rub off.

"Since mental health workers tend to have sustained one-to-one relationships with their patients over many years, those who smoke, have a poor diet and fail to take regular exercise are having a negative influence on the lives of already vulnerable people.

"We urgently need to train our mental health workers to lead by example and intervene if their patients' physical health is deteriorating.

"All health professionals have a duty to promote health in the patients they treat.

"Government guidelines must reflect the shared responsibility all health care professionals have to promote health in one of the most marginalized and socially excluded groups in our society."

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Mental health nurses will recognise that too often, patients can suffer twice over because of a combination of poor mental and physical health.

"There are some complex reasons behind this, such as the side effects of prescription drugs, lifestyle limitations and social and economic problems.

"However, we also know that there are some excellent nurse led initiatives which can really make a difference to people.

"It takes a concerted effort not just among different parts of the health service but with other professions to turn this situation around."

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