Prevalence of multimorbidity in people with and without severe mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Lancet Psychiatry. 2024 Jun;11(6):431-442. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(24)00091-9. Epub 2024 Apr 17.


Background: People with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia-spectrum disorder and bipolar disorder, face poorer health outcomes from multiple chronic illnesses. Physical multimorbidity, the coexistence of two or more chronic physical conditions, and psychiatric multimorbidity, the coexistence of three or more psychiatric disorders, are both emerging concepts useful in conceptualising disease burden. However, the prevalence of physical and psychiatric multimorbidity in this cohort is unknown. This study aimed to estimate the absolute prevalence of both physical and psychiatric multimorbidity in people with severe mental illness, and also compare the odds of physical multimorbidity prevalence against people without severe mental illness.

Methods: We searched CINAHL, EMBASE, PubMed, and PsycINFO from inception until Feb 15, 2024, for observational studies that measured multimorbidity prevalence. To be included, studies had to have an observational study design, be conducted in an adult population (mean age ≥18 years) diagnosed with either schizophrenia-spectrum disorder or bipolar disorder, and include a measurement of occurrence of either physical multimorbidity (≥2 physical health conditions) or psychiatric multimorbidity (≥3 psychiatric conditions total, including the severe mental illness). From control studies, a random-effects meta-analysis compared odds of physical multimorbidity between people with and without severe mental illness. Absolute prevalence of physical and psychiatric multimorbidity in people with severe mental illness was also calculated. Sensitivity and meta-regression analyses tested an array of demographic, diagnostic, and methodological variables.

Findings: From 11 144 citations we included 82 observational studies featuring 1 623 773 individuals with severe mental illness (specifically schizophrenia-spectrum disorder or bipolar disorder), of which 21 studies featured 13 235 882 control individuals without severe mental illness (descriptive data for the entire pooled cohorts were not available for numbers of males and females, age, and ethnicity). This study did not feature involvement of people with lived experience. The odds ratio (OR) of physical multimorbidity between people with and without severe mental illness was 2·40 (95% CI 1·57-3·65, k=11, p=0·0009). This ratio was higher in younger severe mental illness populations (mean age ≤40 years, OR 3·99, 95% CI 1·43-11·10) compared with older populations (mean age >40 years, OR 1·55, 95% CI 0·96-2·51; subgroup differences p=0·0013). For absolute prevalence, 25% of those with severe mental illness have physical multimorbidity (95% CI 0·19-0·32, k=29) and 14% have psychiatric multimorbidity (95% CI 0·08-0·23, k=21).

Interpretation: This is the first meta-analysis to estimate physical alongside psychiatric multimorbidity prevalence, showing that these are common in people with schizophrenia-spectrum disorder and bipolar disorder. The greater burden of physical multimorbidity in people with severe mental illness compared with those without is higher for younger cohorts, reflecting a need for earlier intervention. Our findings speak to the utility of multimorbidity for characterising the disease burden associated with severe mental illness, and the importance of facilitating integrated physical and mental health care.

Funding: None.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Multimorbidity*
  • Prevalence
  • Schizophrenia* / epidemiology