Schizophrenia life expectancy spans 15-20 years less than general population

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects the way one thinks, feels and behaves.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects the way one thinks, feels and behaves.

Published Mar 26, 2024


Mental health awareness tends to focus on mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety attacks, with schizophrenia falling off the bandwagon.

According to “Rethink Mental Illness”, a mental health service provider, schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects the way one thinks, feels and behaves. An affected person often has continuous episodes, where they cannot separate reality from their imagination.

This is because the disorder is uncommon, around 24 million (0.32%) people live with the disorder, of which 0.22% are adults; and tends to affect during late adolescence and the 20s.

Symptoms of the disorder range from hallucinations: the person feels, hears and smells non-existent things; delusions, they strongly believe what they see is true; disorganised thinking, irregular sleeping patterns, poor hygiene, lack of motivation, loss of interest in social activities, cognitive impairment, where there is struggle with memory and problem-solving skills; and often, erratic behaviour.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises that people with schizophrenia are more vulnerable to human rights violations such as abuse, especially in their safe spaces like mental health institutions.

Schizophrenia affects men earlier than women. Stigma against people with the illness is extreme, causing social exclusion, depression and personal interrelationships; therefore, they may not be able to access basic services - quality healthcare, employment and housing.

“Rethink Mental Illness” says that schizophrenic people were two to three times likely to die earlier than the general population, due to cardiovascular, infectious and metabolic diseases.

A 2022 medical report, Mortality in Schizophrenia-Spectrum Disorders: Recent Advances in Understanding and Management, found that the life expectancy of schizophrenic patients was 15 to 20 years shorter than the general population, and a recent autopsy recorded that 64.2% were deaths caused by natural causes while 11% to 12% were caused by accidents, suicide and homicide. The cause of the remaining 9.7% could not be determined.

Both these organisations concurred that causes of schizophrenia have not been concluded; however, environmental factors such as childhood trauma and stress, menopause, hereditary; and heavy use of cannabis, alcohol and drugs are apparent risk factors of schizophrenia.

WHO said treatment and effective care options for patients exist, such as antipsychotic medication, strong support system and intervention from family, cognitive-behavioural therapy and psychosocial rehabilitation- art therapies. Also through psycho-education, one learns and understands their illness, spots early symptoms and prevents relapsing.

Limited quality healthcare access and knowledge is a major challenge for schizophrenic patients, as it is uncommon – mental institutions and hospitals don’t provide adequate services for people living with schizophrenia, and other mental disorders. Hence,the organisation called for the development of accessible mental healthcare centres, especially in low and middle income communities; and awareness, engagement of the disorder in communities, healthcare providers and family for additional support.