Insight Treatment is Now Clear Behavioral Health!

How Do You Die From Mental Illness

Home » Our Blog » How Do You Die From Mental Illness

Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on May 29, 2024

For many people, living with a mental illness can be the most difficult thing they will ever experience. Even with more information, awareness, and education on the subject of mental health in today’s society, many people suffer quietly and in isolation.

There’s a lot of new research and information describing the toll that mental illness can have on a person’s physical health as well as emotional health. The question, “Will my mental illness negatively affect my body?” has been answered with a resounding yes.

Doctors and mental health professionals around the country are doing what they can to spread awareness about the importance and value of treatment and how it can keep people healthy and potentially save their lives.

How does mental illness lead to death?

Research shows that individuals with serious mental illnesses have a life expectancy of ten to 20 years shorter than the general population. A reduced life expectancy is linked to several factors, including suicide, accidental deaths, and physical illnesses.

Here are the most significant ways that mental illness can lead to early death.

Failure to seek treatment

Whether it’s pride, fear of being judged, or the stigmas surrounding mental health, many who suffer from mental illnesses don’t seek treatment at all or procrastinate going for one of these (among many other) reasons.

Unfortunately, the longer individuals delay treatment and help, the worse their conditions will get. Nearly half of American adults and children who struggle with a mental health condition don’t seek treatment or receive care.

Therapy can be expensive, especially if you are paying out of pocket. In some areas, it can be challenging to find a mental health professional that you can connect with and feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with. Along with the rising cost of healthcare, these hurdles are significant for Americans, whether in urban, rural, or suburban areas.

When seeking care from a mental health professional, you are putting yourself on a path back to recovery so you can regain your life and move forward and learn to live with your condition.

Drug abuse

Substance misuse and abuse disorders are commonly linked to mental illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and more.

Many people with mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the symptoms of their condition. In turn, they may develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol and require treatment for that as well. Additionally, substance abuse and addiction can lead to serious mental illness.

Even as a coping mechanism, drug abuse can lead to death because the individual is seeking reprieve from the pain and suffering they are experiencing on a daily basis. The more often that people use drugs or alcohol to alleviate the symptoms of their mental health disorder, the more addicted they will become to whatever substance they’re using.

Studies show that those with a mental illness who use drugs are at a higher risk of overdosing, whether fatal or nonfatal. When individuals use opioids to treat their symptoms, they run the risk of interacting with counterfeit prescription pills or other drugs that may be laced with dangerous substances like fentanyl.

Particularly in young people, fentanyl-related overdose deaths are on the rise. Whether young adults are accessing drugs laced with fentanyl or unknowingly ingesting the dangerous opioid, it’s a significant cause of deaths related to overdose.

Risk-taking behavior

Mental illness affects behavior in a number of ways, and it depends greatly on what condition a person is living with. Risk-taking behavior is often associated with poor mental health; people become reckless and fearless, engaging in activities that may be dangerous or harmful to themselves and others. Risky behavior includes taking illegal drugs, having unprotected sex, and driving under the influence.

Risk-taking behavior is usually associated with mental health disorders like ADHD, where individuals are often more compulsive and decide to do things on a whim and simply for the thrill of it. People with severe mental illness, like bipolar disorder, are also at risk for this type of behavior, particularly when they are experiencing a manic episode.

Risky behavior may seem innocent in the moment, but it can end in very catastrophic and troubling ways. Reckless driving can lead to fatal car accidents, using dangerous (or unknown) drugs can lead to an overdose, and unprotected sex can lead to STDs, STIs, and other physical health problems.


When an individual experiences mental illness, they may find it difficult to keep a job because of both their mental and physical health. Living below the poverty line can also worsen mental illness due to factors like higher healthcare costs, poor diet (and exacerbated physical health problems), increased stress, and lack of motivation or productivity.


Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for individuals with mental disorders. Those with a serious mental illness also have a higher risk of death by suicide.

Suicide risk is higher in individuals with depression and substance use disorders. These mental health conditions make it difficult to find any happiness or hope for the future. It robs individuals of any joy they once experienced and can often lead to suicidal thoughts.

How is a mental illness associated with physical health problems?

Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can take a very physical toll on the body. Physical symptoms can play a role in the deterioration of your body and your health.

Severe mental illness is associated with various physical health problems that can also be a cause of death in people with mental illness. These include chronic conditions like:

  • Heart disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet

Signs of a severe mental illness

The signs of mental illness vary by condition, but generally speaking, here are the signs to look out for:

  • Prolonged feelings of sadness
  • Feeling hopeless or useless
  • Excessive fear or worry
  • Significant mood changes
  • Low energy, sleep problems
  • Social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Unusual anger, hostility, or frustration
  • Inability to cope with daily stress and challenges

Preventing deaths associated with mental illness

Even in a prosperous country like the United States, many of its citizens are suffering in silence because of mental health stigmas, judgments from family and friends, or fear of losing their jobs. Some may not have adequate health insurance, so they can’t afford to seek proper treatment.

This begs the question—what can we do to help prevent premature mortality in Americans who struggle with mental health disorders?

Raising awareness is a critical step. Access to virtual therapy is critical in low-income and rural communities, where it may be harder for individuals to find the care they need. Educating families on signs and symptoms to watch out for, both in themselves and any children in the home can make a significant difference in early detection, treatment, and recovery of a mental health condition.

We know that severe mental illness can lead to suicide for people who don’t see any other way out. As it continues to be a public health and safety problem, suicide prevention is key. The risk factors of suicide are previous suicide attempts, substance misuse, a family history of suicide, mood disorders, and a history of trauma or abuse.

Take control of your mental health with Clear Behavioral Health.

We know it can be challenging to admit that something is off with your mental health—whether you’ve been noticing slight changes in your feelings, mood, or behavior or you’ve been seeking comfort with substances like drugs or alcohol. Severe mental illness can show itself in various ways, so it’s important to pay attention when you notice something is off, and consider seeking the assistance of mental health services. Professional mental health services can provide mental health care and can help those struggling with their mental health live healthy and purposeful lives.

At Clear Behavioral Health, we offer a variety of mental health treatment modalities that address an individual’s needs. Your mental health is not anyone else’s, and we believe it should be tailored to your symptoms, your struggles, and your history. From talk therapy to support groups, clinical treatment, and experiential therapies, our team of experts takes a multi-faceted approach to care in order to provide psychiatric patients with the best possible experience and outcome. Learn more about our programs here.

Mental Health Services and Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles
Take the next step. Call us now.

Take the next step. Call us now.

Are you a good fit for an intensive outpatient program?

I struggle with burnout, depression, or anxiety

I am exhausted and no amount of sleep seems to help

I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I need to do

​​I have tried talk therapy and need more support

Has a clinician referred you to IOP treatment?