Mental illness linked to faster ageing in new study

mental health, suicide, depression

A new study has linked mental health to ageing.

Photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

You are likely to feel older than your actual age if you have a history of a mental health condition.

A study presented during the just concluded European Congress of Psychiatry showed that blood markers of people who have a history of depression, bipolar or anxiety disorders makes them appear older.

The research was conducted by scientists from the United Kingdom (UK) and has not been published in a journal pending peer-review

They analysed 168 blood metabolites from over 100,000 participants whose blood was in the UK’s biobank.

The scientists analysed data of individuals who had a history of mental illness and found that those with a mental illness appeared older than their age mates.

A statement from the European Psychiatry Association explains that should the findings be peer-reviewed and accepted, it may help in explaining why people with mental health problems are likely to have shorter lifespans and more age-related diseases than the general population.

Dr Julian Mutz, one of the researchers who was part of the study said during his presentation that it will now be possible to predict people’s age just by analysing their blood metabolites.

“We found that, on average, those who had a lifetime history of mental illness had a metabolite profile which implied they were older than their actual age. For example, people with bipolar disorder had blood markers indicating that they were around 2 years older than their chronological age,” he said.

“This may not explain all the difference in health and life expectancy between those with mental health problems and the general population, but it does mean that accelerated biological ageing may be an important factor. If we can use these markers to track biological ageing, this may change how we monitor the physical health of people with mental illness and how we evaluate the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving physical health,” he added.

This however will not be the first study to link mental health to ageing.

A study published two years ago in the scientific journal JAMA Pyschiatry also found a correlation between the two. The JAMA study tried to decipher why faster ageing is linked to mental health.

“Our findings have implications for mental health research. The most prominent issue concerns mechanisms linking psychopathology to aging. Here, we articulate a research agenda and suggest research directions and testable hypotheses. First, associations between psychopathology and aging could arise because of poor health behaviors, such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet. Indeed, many of the signs of aging measured in our study are influenced by health behaviors,’ explained the scientists.

“Individuals with mental disorders have reduced access to high-quality health care, which may contribute to associations with accelerated aging. Third, individuals with mental disorders are less likely to obtain educational qualifications and employment, increasing risk for poverty—a contributor to accelerated aging,’ they added.

Dr Sara Poletti, a researcher who was at the European Congress of Psychiatry termed the study as an ‘important work.’

“It gives a possible explanation for the higher prevalence of metabolic and age-related diseases in patients with mental illness. Understanding the mechanisms underlying accelerated biological ageing could be crucial for the development of prevention and tailored treatments to address the growing difficulty of an integrated management of these disorders,” she said.