RESEARCH WEEKLY: April Research Roundup    

Research Roundup is a monthly public service of the Office of Research and Public Affairs. Each edition describes a striking new data point about severe mental illness and summarizes recently published research reports or developments. 
DATAPOINT of the month  

52,459 deaths in the United States due to COVID-19.  

As of the writing of this blog,  more than 50,000 individuals  in the United States have died due to the novel coronavirus. This data includes both confirmed and presumptive positive cases, and likely is an underestimate due to lack of testing availability and the number of deaths that are occurring in homes. A significant number of these deaths are individuals in institutional settings, such as jails and prisons, long-term care facilities, and psychiatric hospitals. 

RESEARCH of the month  

Jail mental health population in Los Angeles County.  
The Los Angeles County jail is the largest mental health treatment facility in the United States with, around 5,000 individuals housed in the mental health section of the jail on any given day. There is also a well-documented disparity in the incarceration of racial and ethnic minorities in LA County’s jail system, however no research previously existed comparing both populations within the jail system.  
Researchers examined data from the LA County Sheriff’s Department on the jail population. The authors found that although black people represented 30% of the overall jail population (and 9% in the whole LA County), black people accounted for 41% of those receiving mental health services within the jail. In addition, approximately 20% of the inmates in the mental health population of the jail had been arrested for misdemeanor charges, compared to less than 10% of the total jail population. The authors suggest that “structural racism is deeply embedded in the legal and mental health systems” and that diversion efforts should work to ensure health equity and reduce disparities among individuals with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system.  
Mental illness treatment prior to death by suicide.   
Research has shown that pharmacological treatment in people with mental illness is an effective suicide prevention strategy, such as lithium or clozapine to reduce suicide risk in patients with severe mental illness. New research from England and Wales examined mental health treatment of people who died by suicide to further understand the role of treatment gaps in suicide deaths among individuals with a psychiatric disorder.  
Of the 78,000 individuals who died by suicide in England and Wales between 2001 and 2016, 26% had contact with the mental health system within the 12-months prior to their death. One-quarter of those patients were not receiving the recommended pharmacological treatment at the time of their death. In patients with schizophrenia, more than 30% of individuals were not receiving treatment at the time of their suicide death, the highest non-treatment rate for all the mental illness diagnostic groups in the study. Two-thirds of those individuals were not receiving treatment because they were non-adherent to their prescribed medications. The results indicate that addressing treatment non-adherence in patients with schizophrenia could significantly reduce suicide risk in these patients.  
Changes over time in the mortality gap for people with schizophrenia.  
There is a well-documented mortality gap for individuals with severe mental illness, with some estimates suggesting individuals die up to 25 years earlier than those without a severe mental illness. New research from Denmark set out to see how this mortality gap of individuals with mental disorders have changed over time. They found that although mortality rates for people with mental illness decreased from 1995 to 2015, the life expectancy gap for people with schizophrenia did not change.  
Plana-Ripoll, O., et al. (2020).  Changes over time in the differential mortality gap in individuals with mental disorders.   JAMA Psychiatry.  

Elizabeth Sinclair Hancq
Director of Research
Treatment Advocacy Center

Questions? Contact us at  [email protected]  

Research Weekly is a summary published as a public service of the Treatment Advocacy Center and does not necessarily reflect the findings or positions of the organization or its staff. Full access to research summarized may require a fee or paid subscription to the publications.  

The Treatment Advocacy Center does not solicit or accept funds from pharmaceutical companies.