Health and wellbeing study set to reach 10,000 people with severe mental ill health


by Ruth Wadman

The Closing the Gap: Health and Wellbeing Cohort (CTG:HWB Cohort) is a key resource for the ARC YH Mental and Physical Multimorbidity Theme at the University of York. 

This month, this cohort study is on target to recruit 10,000 participants with severe mental ill health (SMI). These participants have completed questionnaires about their lifestyle and physical health. They can also choose to be followed-up over time and be invited to take part in other important health and wellbeing research.

Why is this study needed?

People with SMI, such as schizophrenia and bipolar illness, experience poorer physical health than people without SMI. This health inequality (or ‘gap’) is profound. Indeed, life expectancy for people with SMI is shortened by around 20 years. 

People with SMI are more likely to develop long-term physical health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illness. They also develop these conditions at a younger age. Modifiable risk factors such as smoking and obesity contribute to this mortality gap.    

The CTG-HWB study allows the researchers to measure health behaviours and risk factors in people with SMI. Ultimately, this unique study will improve our understanding of poor physical health in this group, and find ways to address this health inequality. 

What has the study found so far? 

Early findings from the study, which focus on physical activity among people with SMI, have been published in a scientific journal [1].  Of the people who completed the health and wellbeing questionnaire, only 38% reported undertaking regular physical activity but 61% wanted to do more physical activity. The people who did do regular physical activity thought that maintaining a healthy lifestyle was important and also thought that they had generally good physical health. These results show the need for interventions to improve physical activity in people with SMI, as only around a third of the participants reported an active lifestyle. Crucially though, most of the participants said they did want to do more physical activity. The researchers said future research could look at how people perceive their physical health and what factors might motivate (or prevent) them to do more physical activity.    

What do the participants say? 

Participants expressed the desire to take part in physical activity but often felt overwhelmed and uncertain about where to start. 

“Where do I start how am I going to join a running club?” 

 What do the researchers say? 

Dr Emily Peckham, who manages the study, says “We are really grateful that so many people have given their time to take part in this research study. They have helped to create a unique national study that will allow us to understand and improve physical health in people with severe mental ill health.”    

What’s next? 

In 2019, the health and wellbeing study was adopted by the ‘Closing the Gap’ network, a collaborative programme led by Professor Simon Gilbody at the University of York. This means that study participants will have the opportunity to take part in the Closing the Gap network research programme, which aims to ‘understand the causes and consequences of the health and mortality gap’ that people with severe mental illness experience and to ‘identity the most effective means to mitigate these causes and consequences’.  

One of the first projects will be to explore further the types of physical activity people with SMI would like to be involved in and the barriers to getting involved. More information can be found here: 

[1] Mishu, M.P., Peckham, E.J., Heron, P.N. et al. Factors associated with regular physical activity participation among people with severe mental ill health. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 54, 887–895 (2019).

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