Succinct as it is, the catch-all term of "mental illness" rarely captures the entire breadth of health issues its sufferers can go through. As the mind goes, so goes the body, and vice-versa.

Or perhaps more accurately, so goes the heart, according to a new study in Psychological Medicine. UK researchers, drawing upon a sample of 450 people diagnosed with psychosis, have found incredibly high rates of obesity and other risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease among the mentally ill.

Pooling data from both rural and urban mental health service centers across the UK, the authors examined the health records of people with established psychosis, hoping to determine the prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factors as well as the percentage suffering from metabolic syndrome, a complex set of symptoms involving obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated levels of triglycerides and low high-density cholesterol (LDL). Metabolic syndrome is known to increase the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

They discovered that nearly half the participants could be classified as obese, and that nearly all, including 95 percent of women, fit the criteria for central obesity, defined as excessive abdominal fat, as established by the International Diabetes Foundation. Of the 308 people tested, 57 percent would have been classified as having metabolic syndrome, 30 percent as likely to eventually develop diabetes, and 20 percent who already met the criteria for diabetes.

Searching for answers, the researchers further reported that high levels of cigarette smoking and low levels of physical activity were also noticed, with 62 percent of participants active smokers while only 12 percent reported intensive physical activity. Though psychosis itself is a somewhat vague diagnosis, often defined as losing touch with reality through disorganized thoughts, delusions, and/or hallucinations, the authors note that a long line of research has linked physical health to mental health. “We already know that diagnosis of a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is associated with a reduced life expectancy of between 10 to 25 years. This mortality gap is largely due to natural causes, including cardiac disease,” said senior author and faculty member of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London Dr. Fiona Gaughran in a press release.

Despite this, the authors were still taken aback by what they found, and they say that their results point to a need to develop more effective solutions for better treating people who are already too often marginalized by society. "The worryingly high levels of cardiovascular risk shown in our study indicate that a much greater emphasis on physical activity is needed for those with severe mental illnesses, as well as a more significant focus on supporting attempts to quit smoking," Gaughran said. "Research is urgently needed into the best ways to reduce existing cardiovascular risk in people with psychosis, prevent weight gain, and promote healthy lifestyles in the early stages of the illness."

Source: Gardner-Sood P, Lally J, Smith S, et al. Cardiovascular risk factors and metabolic syndrome in people with established psychotic illnesses: baseline data from the IMPaCT randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine. 2015.