Improving the physical health of people with mental illness

We’ve long known that mental and physical health are inextricably linked. People living with mental illnesses are more likely to have poorer physical health than the general population; they are also more likely to have chronic preventable diseases and tend to die earlier. Yet despite their increased vulnerability, they are actually less likely to receive the care and support they need for their physical welfare.

A review of the latest evidence show how community-managed organisations can best deliver physical healthcare to people with mental illnesses.

How can we improve this situation? The NSW Ministry of Health commissioned an Evidence Check from the Sax Institute to look at how community-managed organisations can best deliver physical healthcare to people with mental illnesses.

Analysing the findings of 29 recent studies, the authors found evidence for the efficacy of a variety of different delivery models, including peer-led self-management; integration of a dedicated care provider and online delivery of care, among other approaches. The evidence supports a multi-pronged strategy, delivering a range of preventive health interventions to help people make the lifestyle changes they need to improve their physical health.

Looking at successful programs for weight loss and smoking cessation, the researchers identified several key characteristics. These include program duration (ideally between 3 and 12 months); delivery of care either in person or by telephone, and providing people with advice such as personalised fitness plans; free lifestyle aids such as gym memberships or free nicotine replacement therapy; and counselling, coaching and practical support.

Below are six key strategies to consider when developing community-managed programs to help improve the physical welfare of people living with mental illness:

  • Refer people to healthcare providers and services – for example Quitline phone services, oral health services, or their GP or other medical services
  • Use multiple implementation strategies in implementing new models, including training, personnel to support practice change, and information resources
  • Assess the barriers and enablers to delivering your program, in order to identify solutions.
  • Involve mental health peer workers (who have personal lived experience of mental illness) in delivering physical health interventions.
  • Involve the organisation’s staff and clients in co-producing physical health care interventions.
  • Tailor or adapt existing, evidence-based physical healthcare interventions to meet the needs of the service’s clients.

Read the full Evidence Check here.

A Sax Institute Evidence Check conducts a rapid review of existing research and evidence that is tailored to a policy agency’s individual needs. Find out more here or visit the Sax Institute’s Evidence Check Library.

*Readers seeking support and information about mental health can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.