SYDNEY: A new report by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration reveals that Australians with mental health conditions are at increased risk of chronic conditions like asthma. Women are particularly vulnerable given the increased prevalence of the condition among women compared to men. The rate of asthma among Australian women generally is 11.8%; among Australian women with mental health conditions, that rises to a staggering 20.1%.

More than 4 million (17.5%) Australians live with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or psychosis. More than 2.4 million people have both a mental illness and at least one chronic physical health condition.

This is the first report that quantifies how having a mental health condition increases the risk of every major chronic disease including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and arthritis.

Asthma affects 1 in 9 Australians and still kills more than 400 people a year.

The report outlined that people with mental health conditions are more likely to have asthma than the general population, and women with mental health conditions are 70% more likely to report having asthma.

Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman said; “This study has highlighted a significant association between mental health and chronic diseases. We don’t yet understand the underlying mechanisms of this, but when primary carers are dealing with patients with mental health issues, they should be thinking about the risk of chronic disease, and alert to any symptoms.

We need our primary health care professionals to support patients with their health challenges over the course of their lifetime, and that they address the risks of chronic disease at the earlier possible opportunity.   Symptoms are too often attributed to the patient’s mental health state.  This research shows the possibility of chronic conditions should not be discounted or dismissed, they need to be front of mind.

This gives us an opportunity to increase asthma diagnosis and help them manage this dangerous chronic condition.”

Smoking is a known risk factor for asthma that greatly impacts asthma control. The report demonstrated that people with mental health conditions are much more likely to smoke than the general population, which may be a contributing factor to the higher rates of asthma in people with mental health conditions.

The Report was released by Professor Allan Fels AO (AHPC Advisory Board member) on 7 August 2018.

For more information about the report https://www.vu.edu.au/australian-health-policy-collaboration/publications#chronic-diseases