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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Physical health behaviours and health locus of control in people with schizophrenia-spectrum disorder and bipolar disorder: a cross-sectional comparative study with people with non-psychotic mental illness

Kurt Buhagiar*, Liam Parsonage and David PJ Osborn

Author Affiliations

Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London Medical School, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK

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BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:104  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-104

Published: 24 June 2011



People with mental illness experience high levels of morbidity and mortality from physical disease compared to the general population. Our primary aim was to compare how people with severe mental illness (SMI; i.e. schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and bipolar disorder) and non-psychotic mental illness perceive their: (i) global physical health, (ii) barriers to improving physical health, (iii) physical health with respect to important aspects of life and (iv) motivation to change modifiable high-risk behaviours associated with coronary heart disease. A secondary aim was to determine health locus of control in these two groups of participants.


People with SMI and non-psychotic mental illness were recruited from an out-patient adult mental health service in London. Cross-sectional comparison between the two groups was conducted by means of a self-completed questionnaire.


A total of 146 people participated in the study, 52 with SMI and 94 with non-psychotic mental illness. There was no statistical difference between the two groups with respect to the perception of global physical health. However, physical health was considered to be a less important priority in life by people with SMI (OR 0.5, 95% CI 0.2-0.9, p = 0.029). There was no difference between the two groups in their desire to change high risk behaviours. People with SMI are more likely to have a health locus of control determined by powerful others (p < 0.001) and chance (p = 0.006).


People with SMI appear to give less priority to their physical health needs. Health promotion for people with SMI should aim to raise awareness of modifiable high-risk lifestyle factors. Findings related to locus of control may provide a theoretical focus for clinical intervention in order to promote a much needed behavioural change in this marginalised group of people.

attitudes; cardiovascular disease; health locus of control; physical health; severe mental illness