Unhappy, Unhealthy

Earlier this month, the blogosphere weighed in on an Oregon study that found that Medicaid enrollees, when compared to non-enrollees, had lower rates of depression but little difference in things like cholesterol and blood pressure. Bill Gardner pushes back against one headline writer’s claim that enrollees were “happier but not healthier”:

[M]ental illness isn’t just about happiness: Mental illness kills. Sometimes by suicide, of which mental illness is a principal cause. But most of the excess deaths among the mentally ill are caused by diseases such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.  In a sense, mental illness amplifies the risk or lethality of physical health problems. This occurs for many reasons.  Mentally ill people are more likely to develop tobacco, alcohol, and substance abuse addictions. Mentally ill people also experience high levels of stress from the loss of jobs, marriages, and families. Chronic diseases such as diabetes require intensive daily self-care routines and mental illness undermines a patient’s ability to carry these out.