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Does Mental Illness Raise Diabetes Risk?

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Jun 20th 2018

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, June 20, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Americans with severe mental illness are more than twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and the increased risk is highest among minorities, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at more than 15,000 patients with severe mental illness and found that 28 percent had type 2 diabetes. The rate in the general population is 12 percent.

Among people with severe mental illness, rates of type 2 diabetes were 37 percent for Hispanics, 36 percent for blacks, 31 percent for Asians, and 25 percent for whites.

It's important to point out, though, that the study only found an association between mental health and diabetes, not a cause-and-effect connection.

"Antipsychotic medications prescribed for conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may cause weight gain and impact cholesterol levels and insulin resistance," said study leader Dr. Christina Mangurian. She's vice chair for diversity and health equity at the University of California, San Francisco's department of psychiatry.

"Additionally, people with severe mental illness have more tenuous life circumstances, including food insecurity, low income and unstable housing situations, which all increase their risk of diabetes," Mangurian said in a university news release. "Stressors such as structural racism compound these problems in minorities."

The researchers also found nearly half of people with severe mental illness had prediabetes, compared with about one-third of the general population. Rates of prediabetes (elevated blood sugar levels) were highest among blacks, Hispanics and Asians with severe mental illness, and the condition tended to appear as young as age 20.

The findings were published recently in the journal Diabetes Care.

"The results of the study indicate that we should be screening all patients with severe mental illness for diabetes," Mangurian said.

"I view this as an opportunity to change how doctors think about health screening and to help prevent diabetes," she said. "By diagnosing prediabetes early, we can help patients make lifestyle modifications or start medicine so that they don't develop diabetes."

Previous research by Mangurian found that severe mental illness was associated with low rates of diabetes testing, HIV testing and cervical cancer screening.

More information

The American Diabetes Association has more on type 2 diabetes.