The Connection Between Mental Health & Longevity

In recent years, there has been heightened attention on how our mental health impacts our overall well being, with a growing body of evidence indicating that mental health has a direct impact on our healthspan and longevity.










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May 9, 2022

01 What is mental health?

Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological and social well being. In the long term, mental health can powerfully influence our physical and overall health. In fact, self reported poor mental health can shorten health expectancy as much as diabetes, smoking, or lack of exercise. [1]

02 The connection between mental health and physical illness.

Chronic cases of poor mental health and mental illness can take a measurable toll on your physicality, and even life expectancy. Individuals with bipolar disorder have a reduced life expectancy between 9 to 20 years lower than individuals without the disorders. Individuals with schizophrenia face reductions between 10 to 20 years in life expectancy, and those with recurring depression face reductions of around 7 to 11 years. [1]

Furthermore, individuals who report symptoms of depression experience chronic conditions three times more often than their counterparts. They are also at higher risk for metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes. [2]

Fortunately, this works in both directions! There are several instances where optimism has quite literally saved lives. In fact, a positive attitude has been shown to be positively associated with cardiovascular health outcomes, rendering optimism as a potential intervention.[3]

The impact of mental health on lifespan.

Considering the influence that mental health plays on physical health, it’s no surprise that mental health can also have direct and indirect impacts on life expectancy!

The impact of mental health on early mortality.

Life expectancy in individuals with mental illness is not only lower due to higher chance of physical ailments but an increased risk of early mortality, due to its impact on socio-economic status and suicide rates.

Chronic mental illness can increase the struggle of finding stable employment, often forcing people suffering from mental illness below the poverty line. This situation can lead to nutritional deficiencies and unsafe environments, all of which can result in early mortality.

Additionally, suicide accounts for 1.4% of deaths worldwide, and is most commonly a result of poor mental health. Suicide is one of the leading causes of premature death in individuals with mental ilness, with studies estimating that individuals with severe cases of mental illness, including depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism, have a 5–8% risk of comitting suicide. [2]

The impact of positive thinking on longevity.

Luckily, a healthy mind can actually keep you healthy longer. In fact, individuals who practice positive thinking experience an average lifespan 8 - 13 years longer. The WHO defines signs of good mental health as the following [4]:

  • The ability to manage normal stresses of life.
  • The ability to work productively.
  • Understanding your potential to grow.
  • Contributing to your community.

Mostly byproducts of positive thinking, these factors have been shown to greatly impact your socio-ecenmoic status and relationships. They can also genuinely improve physical health and promote longevity. Coined as the “power of positivity”, optimistic and constructive mental frameworks effectively tackle a major aging accelerator, stress.

Excess of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are known to accelerate aging by disrupting and lowering immune responses and causing hormone imbalances. These hormones stimulate metabolic reactions, increasing the amount of metabolic byproducts, known as free radicals. Free radicals place oxidative stress on our DNA, shortening our telomeres and accelerating cellular aging. [5]

Positive thinking not only has the ability to reduce stress hormones, but it also increases the release of ‘happiness’ chemicals, such as serotonin, which can actually stimulate longevity pathways. Simple acts like smiling or deep breathing can instantly boost serotonin, reduce stress levels and subsequently strengthen your body!

05 What can you do?

The following practices are great ways to kickstart good mental health:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Improve your diet.

It should be noted, however, that some individuals find integrating these practices into their daily life can initially add more stress to their lives, and failure to remain consistent can sometimes cause guilt, which can counteract a positive mindset. If that is your situation, psychologists usually recommend the following tactics. [6]

  • Communicate your feelings out loud and consider starting these practices with a friend or loved one.
  • Find a hobby that gets you moving in a way that you enjoy (i.e. jumping on a trampoline, dancing, hiking, etc.)
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Seek professional help if necessary.

Achieving positive mental health should be considered a pillar in overall wellbeing, just like eating healthy, going to the doctor, and taking medication. For many, maintaining a healthy and positive mindset can be as simple as taking time to practice mindfulness, and for others, it can require more focused work with a professional. Either way, achieving good mental health is a proven way to not only extend your lifespan, but to enjoy those extra years engaging in positivity and joy. Remember, happiness should not only be a device to help achieve your goals, but an end goal itself!

Key Takeaways

  • Chronic conditions of mental illness can reduce life expectancy up to 20 years, and simultaneously increase the probability of premature mortality.
  • A positive attitude has been shown to be positively associated with cardiovascular health outcomes, rendering optimism as a potential intervention.
  • Exercise, a consistent sleep schedule, a healthy diet, and practicing mindfulness, are known to improve mental health.
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