Numerous studies have shown that the average life expectancy for people with schizophrenia is shorter than that of people without the condition.

For example, a 2015 study showed that people with schizophrenia are 3.5 times more likely than those without the diagnosis to die each year, while a 2017 study suggests that schizophrenia subtracts an average of 14.5 years from a person’s life expectancy.

A 2021 study found that schizophrenia was the second most significant risk factor for dying of COVID-19. It was second only to age. Numerous factors, including the side effects of schizophrenia medication, a higher risk of substance abuse, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, all play a role in the reduction of life expectancy.

In many cases, the factors that reduce life expectancy for people with schizophrenia can change. A 2020 study found that addressing modifiable risk factors could increase life expectancy in people with schizophrenia by 7 years.

Keep reading to learn more about life expectancy and schizophrenia, including more about the causes of this reduced life expectancy and ways people can try to counter it.

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Mental illnesses designated “severe,” including schizophrenia, shorten a person’s life expectancy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the decline in life expectancy among people with more severe mental illness ranges from 10–25 years.

Most studies of schizophrenia show a life expectancy reduction of 10–20 years.

A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis found that schizophrenia correlated with an average of 14.5 years of potential life lost per person.

The effects were more pronounced in men, who lost an average of 15.9 years from their life with a range of 13.8 to 18 years, compared to women, whose average loss was 13.6 years with a range of 11.4 to 15.8 years.

People in the Asian portion of the study had the fewest years lost, compared to those in the African portion of the study, who lost the most years.

Overall, the weighted life expectancy was 64.7 years, and 59.9 years for men compared to 67.6 years for women.

A 2020 observational study in the United Kingdom found similar reductions in life expectancy among people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder: 14.5 years less for men and 13.2 years less for women on average.

A 2017 study of deaths between 1993 and 2012 found that the life expectancy of people with schizophrenia is increasing, but that overall mortality among people with schizophrenia remains three times higher than those in the general population.

Several factors interact to elevate the risk of death among people with schizophrenia. They include:

  • Schizophrenia medication: Antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia may increase the risk of certain diseases. A 2018 study looking at a representative sample of Australians with schizophrenia found that those who took schizophrenia drugs were 1.91 times more likely to start diabetes treatment and 1.28 times more likely to start treatment for hyperlipidemia.
  • Lifestyle: A healthy lifestyle may help reduce the negative health impacts of schizophrenia medication, but people with schizophrenia may be more likely to be sedentary, eat unhealthy foods, and deal with chronic stress that impacts their health.
  • Substance abuse: People with schizophrenia are more likely to smoke, drink excessively, and use illicit drugs. This can erode health and increase the risk of dying from accidents and overdoses. Deaths from cardiovascular disease are more common in people with schizophrenia, and drug use is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Infection: A 2021 study found that people with schizophrenia, but not other mental health conditions such as depression, are more likely to die from COVID-19. This could be because of comorbidities, or two or more conditions present together, that lead to more severe illness.
  • Access to medical care and other supports: People with schizophrenia may need help integrating into society, getting or keeping a job, or accessing medical care. All of these factors can affect overall health by making it difficult to access treatment, healthy food, and a safe place to live.
  • Accidents and violence: Mental illness may increase a person’s risk of being a victim of violence or experiencing a life threatening accident.

A 2020 study found that interventions to lower the risk of dying by managing modifiable risk factors could improve life expectancy by up to 7 years. Interventions were more effective when they began earlier in life. To improve life expectancy, try the following:

  • Treat schizophrenia as soon as symptoms appear to improve the outlook of the condition.
  • Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet to reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
  • Avoid smoking, drinking, and using drugs.
  • Establish a relationship with a trusted doctor to make it easier to treat serious medical conditions.

Schizophrenia is a chronic illness, and many people with the condition will relapse even with treatment. For this reason, it is important to establish a good relationship with a medical professional.

Because schizophrenia causes a person to disconnect from reality, it is also important to develop strong relationships with loved ones who can alert a person when their schizophrenia symptoms appear to be getting worse.

Some treatment and management options include:

  • Medication: Medications, especially antipsychotic drugs, can greatly reduce schizophrenia symptoms. People who find the side effects of these drugs intolerable should talk with a doctor about treatment options rather than giving up on medication. Sometimes adding a different drug or changing the dosage helps.
  • Skills training: Rehabilitation and support to integrate into the community can help people with schizophrenia live productive, meaningful lives.
  • Family support: Schizophrenia can be difficult for some families and may impact relationships. Family support, including education and family therapy, may help.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can help a person develop coping skills, better understand their diagnosis, communicate more effectively, and identify signs that symptoms are getting worse.

Schizophrenia is a complex disease with biological, genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors contributing to its development. Some strategies that may reduce the risk include:

Accessing quality prenatal care

Low quality nutrition, infection during pregnancy, and oxygen deprivation at birth correlate with a higher risk of developing schizophrenia later in life.

Avoiding cannabis

Cannabis use may increase the risk of schizophrenia symptoms, such as psychosis, and may also have a slight causative effect, according to a 2020 study. Researchers believe this is specifically due to the compound THC.

Neuroimaging studies show the harmful effect of cannabis on brain development, especially adolescent brains.

Recent trials in therapeutic cannabidiol (CBD) use, which is another compound in cannabis, show its alleviating effect on positive symptoms of schizophrenia and its opposing effect on THC, which warrants further research.

Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are symptoms that show up after an individual develops this condition..

Reducing childhood trauma and other adverse childhood events

Children exposed to trauma or abuse may be more likely to develop schizophrenia, especially if they have a genetic predisposition to the disease.

Getting early treatment

Early treatment of schizophrenia symptoms may improve the outcome of the disease.

The average life expectancy of people with schizophrenia is shorter than those without the condition. However, the average does not reveal anything about an individual’s life expectancy. It is still possible to be healthy with schizophrenia and to live a typical or even long life.

Certain strategies, such as avoiding smoking, counteracting the effects of schizophrenia medication, finding a safe living environment, and treating chronic illnesses, may make a significant impact.

People with schizophrenia should be mindful of the life-shortening impacts of the disease and should discuss with their doctors strategies for living longer.

The effects of schizophrenia extend well beyond the individual, and people with schizophrenia may face a wide range of health barriers. The responsibility for improving life expectancy cannot fall solely to individuals, because they alone are not able to make the systemic social changes that improve care outcomes and healthcare access.