What is a severe mental illness (SMI)?
A severe mental illness is a psychological problem that can prevent a person from doing the things they would normally do: like work, socialise and live independently.
The term SMI includes diagnoses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other conditions where psychosis might be present and severely impacting quality of life. Patients on medication like lithium might also be considered to have a severe mental illness.
Unfortunately for people living with SMI, their mental health diagnosis isn’t the only challenge.
Many people with an SMI diagnosis often have other long-term health conditions. These commonly include heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. People with SMI also often have poor health behaviours, like smoking, bad diet, a lack of exercise and substance misuse.
This combination of poor mental health, physical and behavioural factors means people with an SMI have shorter life spans then the general population and die on average 15 to 20 years earlier*.
This gap in life expectancy, between the general population and those with SMI, is known as an example of health inequality – and it’s an unfair and avoidable difference.