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Week 2012

September 17–23

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Department of Health and Human Services

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration Center for Mental Health Services

Last Updated: 9/15/2011

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A National Call to Action for the Wellness of People with Mental Health Problems

The early mortality rates of people with serious mental health problems—with decades of life lost—have recently received much-needed attention. This disparity in life expectancy is unacceptable. People with mental health problems deserve to live lives that are as long and as healthy as other Americans.

As the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) Medical Director's Council reported the “increased morbidity and mortality are largely due to treatable medical conditions that are caused by modifiable risk factors such as smoking, obesity, substance abuse, and inadequate access to medical care.”

Among the variety of causative factors resulting in this disparity are: higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, and infectious disease (including HIV); higher risk factors due to high rates of smoking, substance abuse, obesity, and “unsafe” sexual practices; increased vulnerability due to poverty, social isolation, trauma, and incarceration; a lack of coordination between mental and primary healthcare; stigma and discrimination; side effects from psychotropic medications; and an overall lack of access to healthcare—particularly preventative care. In addition to the tragedy of early death, it should also be noted that the higher rates of acuity of health conditions result in greater health costs to the nation.

There are also multiple strategies that need to be employed to effectively address this issue including:

  1. improved data collection to track, measure, and monitor co-morbidity and mortality and systems effort in reducing this disparity;
  2. identification, evaluation, and adoption of effective policies and practices—including financing—for prevention/health promotion, screening, and access to quality, integrated, individualized care and treatment that fosters recovery;
  3. training and education of consumers, youth, families, providers, and administrators; and
  4. leadership and advocacy to influence and effect needed change.

In addition to NASMHPD, a range of groups have begun to address these issues including providers, advocates, consumers, researchers, families, and others. The reduction and elimination of this disparity, however, will require a coordinated and strategic approach among all stakeholders.'

The public health crisis of early mortality can be solved. People with mental health problems and their loved ones are relying on us moving from attention to action to ensure that every American has equal access to our fundamental ideals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.