A new study investigating intriguing links between mental illness and heart disease risk is among $1.5 million in grants announced today.

With a $148,000 Heart Foundation grant, University of Otago researcher Dr Ruth Cunningham will explore ways of managing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk in people with mental illness.

Adults using mental health services in New Zealand are twice as likely to die before the age of 65 compared to other Kiwis, and many of these deaths are caused by CVD.

"The increased burden of CVD experienced by people with serious mental illness is not adequately accounted for by our current risk prediction tools," Cunningham said.


"This will be the first time CVD risk factors and outcomes for people in contact with mental health services have been documented in New Zealand.

"Our aim is to create a tool that better predicts the risk of CVD in this group."

The study is one of 12 supported by the foundation's latest funding round.

Another project led by Tim Norman of the Midlands Regional Health Network Charitable Trust will trial a new method of assessing chest pain among people in rural Waikato.

"Our aim is to increase the proportion of low-risk patients presenting with a suspected heart attack who can be successfully assessed in the rural primary care setting, without them needing to travel to a hospital unnecessarily," Norman said.

"These kinds of improvements would reduce avoidable hospitalisations and free up hospital resources, while also improving the way we manage chest pain in GP clinics."

Funding has also been awarded to Auckland University researcher Dr Katrina Poppe, who will use a hand-carried echocardiography tool to assess the prevalence of structural heart disease in people with atrial fibrillation, one of New Zealand's fastest-growing forms of heart disease.

In a separate study, Auckland University researcher Associate Professor Ralph Maddison will test the effectiveness of Text4Heart - a mobile phone-delivered programme aimed at helping people with heart disease to make and maintain lifestyle changes.


The foundation's medical director, Gerry Devlin, said ongoing research was critical in our efforts to reduce deaths from heart disease in New Zealand.

"Research is vital because it allows us to learn more about the causes of different heart conditions, then get better at preventing and treating them."