• Declaration of interest

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Abstract

Background

People with mental disorders evince excess mortality due to natural and unnatural deaths. The relative life expectancy of people with mental disorders is a proxy measure of effectiveness of social policy and health service provision.

Aims

To evaluate trends in health outcomes of people with serious mental disorders.

Method

We examined nationwide 5-year consecutive cohorts of people admitted to hospital for mental disorders in Denmark, Finland and Sweden in 1987–2006. In each country the risk population was identified from hospital discharge registers and mortality data were retrieved from cause-of-death registers. The main outcome measure was life expectancy at age 15 years.

Results

People admitted to hospital for a mental disorder had a two- to threefold higher mortality than the general population in all three countries studied. This gap in life expectancy was more pronounced for men than for women. The gap decreased between 1987 and 2006 in these countries, especially for women. The notable exception was Swedish men with mental disorders. In spite of the positive general trend, men with mental disorders still live 20 years less, and women 15 years less, than the general population.

Conclusions

During the era of deinstitutionalisation the life expectancy gap for people with mental disorders has somewhat diminished in the three Nordic countries. Our results support further development of the Nordic welfare state model, i.e. tax-funded community-based public services and social protection. Health promotion actions, improved access to healthcare and prevention of suicides and violence are needed to further reduce the life expectancy gap.

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