An opportunity to improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) health outcomes among people who experience mental health issues was taken up recently by the Equally Well backbone group at Te Pou, working with Ruth Cunningham, a senior research fellow at the University of Otago, Wellington.

The Ministry of Health is reviewing the guidance provided to primary care on CVD risk assessment and management. We investigated the research on mental health and CVD, to be included in the evidence review. This would flag the importance of making sure people who experience mental health issues get better access to CVD screening and monitoring, especially in primary care.

Our findings will be included in the evidence review and used to inform the updated guidelines. 

The important key message is that people who experience mental health and addiction issues should be prioritised for CVD checks and proactively offered support to manage CVD risk. Read a summary of the findings in the Te Pou resource centre.

Key findings

  • People who experience serious mental health problems have a greater relative risk of CVD than the general population, even after controlling for other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, ethnicity, age. 
  • The increased CVD risk is present at an earlier age than in the general population. 
  • Current CVD risk assessment tools are likely to underestimate the risk for this population. 
  • There are inequities in assessment and management of CVD risk and CVD for people diagnosed with serious mental illness.