The relationship between our mental and physical health cannot be ignored. Many don’t realize that mental health plays a huge role in how physically healthy a person can be. Failing to acknowledge the connections between the “mind” and “body” results in many individuals suffering from physical illnesses, and mental health conditions that could potentially be prevented or managed more effectively with an awareness of the mind-body connection. When we ignore our mental health, we increase the likelihood of suffering from various illnesses including high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, poor immune system, obesity, chronic pain, chronic fatigue or insomnia.
Furthermore, poor mental health can impact life expectancy. Studies have found that individuals with mental health diagnoses (i.e., schizophrenia, depression) have a shorter life expectancy. According to the Mental Health Foundation, those diagnosed with depression have a 50 percent increased chance of dying from cancer and a 67 percent chance of dying from heart disease. Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia are three times more likely to die from respiratory disease. In addition, depression increases the chance of death in individuals with cardiac disease. These interconnections between mind and body illnesses, is because untreated mental illnesses can impact how effective a person can be in caring for themselves physically, i.e. taking appropriate medication or being compliant with doctor’s orders. These are only a few examples of why it is so important to take care of both your physical and mental health.
There is a wealth of research that explains the correlation between mental health and physical health. It is time we recognize the connection between the two on even a most basic level because not everyone is interested in reviewing the countless research that supports these important findings. If you are mentally drained, stressed, or overwhelmed, it is extremely difficult to make your physical health a priority. On the other hand, if you are suffering from a chronic illness, your mental health may decline due to a number of factors such as being consumed by the physical pain, or constantly worrying about being a burden to your loved ones. This is why psychotherapy is so important. Seeing a mental health professional to explain and address mental health challenges can improve your overall quality of life.
When we break a leg we get a cast to ensure the bone heals properly, however, there is not a visible, tangible mental cast to ensure that breaks in mental illness are properly healed. People are less open to seeking treatment for mental health concerns, despite the fact that most visits to physicians’ offices for physical illness concerns are closely or directly related to mental health care. According to EAP digest, only 5% of those experiencing a mental health issue actually seek treatment by visiting a mental health professional, while 95% receive treatment for mental unwellness from their family physician as they do not recognize that their symptoms are a result of a mental health issue. This further proves the lack of understanding in the relationship between physical and mental health.
Let’s think about this on the most basic level. How do you feel mentally when you are really hungry? It impacts your ability to focus, sleep, or perform at your best. Your body responding to its need for food may cause you to feel irritable or frustrated, thus impacting you mental health. Now if this is the possible response of missing a meal, imagine how your mental health could be impacted when it comes to experiencing discomfort of more severe physical illnesses, such as high blood pressure, kidney failure, diabetes. Another example would be an individual suffering from depression and how depression can cause an increase in appetite, resulting in weight gain which could lead to obesity. Imagine if both of these individuals received treatment for their physical illness as well as their mental health condition. They would feel better mentally, thus increasing motivation and feelings of happiness, which would have a direct impact on the person’s motivation for adhering to their doctor’s recommendations.
It’s time to bring awareness to the relationship between physical and mental health. The World Health Organization states, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. He also adds, “there is no health without mental health”. Both physical and mental wellness are important in ensuring that we have the best quality of life possible and live life to the fullest. You deserve to be happy, healthy and to be the best version of yourself in every way.
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Gonzalez JS, Safren SA, Delahanty LM, Cagliero E, Wexler DJ, Meigs JB et al. Symptoms of depression prospectively predict poorer self-care in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Diabet Med 2008;25:1102–7. doi:10.1111/j.14645491.2008.02535.x PMID:19183315
Lechnyr, R. (1993). The cost savings of mental health services. EAP Digest, 22