Mental and Physical Health: A Two Way Street

by Aisha E. Al-Saqabi
mental health

“Get over it”

“It can’t be that bad”

“Just be happy”

“It’s all in your head”

These are just some phrases that have been and are still casually thrown at people who might be mentally ill or expressing symptoms of any mental health problems. Although, the situation is not the same when people reveal their concerns about their physical health. You simply cannot tell a person who suffers from heart disease or a broken leg to “get over it”. But why can people say that to individuals experiencing any form of psychological distress?

Simply put: If mental health was not so undervalued and trivialized, then these kinds of comments would be forever eliminated from people’s vocabulary and here’s how:

Mental and physical health are not meant to be thought of as mutually exclusive. In fact, they both contribute to each other’s progression and/or decline.

Mental health contributes both positively and negatively to physical health and vice versa. To illustrate, in individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the patterns in which the brain functions are altered and become more sensitive to certain triggers; which eventually leads to PTSD. If the trauma is chronic, the repeated stress caused by the trauma directly impacts the autonomic nervous system and results in physical degradation. [1]

In another example, individuals who have type II diabetes mellitus are two times as likely to experience depression than the general public. [2] Thus, demonstrating the direct correlation between physical and mental health, which are sometimes still regarded as two conflicting states.

Dr. Brock Chisholm, a Canadian psychiatrist and the first director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) pioneered the notion that physical and mental health are indeed interrelated. [2] Over the next couple of decades, a number of studies and reviews supported his concept and exhibited the correlational relationship between mental and physical health. One specific study demonstrated that individuals with severe mental illnesses (SMI) are two or three times more likely to die as a result of their condition(s) or disease(s). [3] A 13-30 year shortened life expectancy is also common for individuals with SMI. [3]

Moreover, interestingly enough, medical conditions have the potential of mimicking mental health disorders and sometimes patients get misdiagnosed. Further research suggests that in some cases, individuals do not have any mental illnesses at all but instead suffer from undiagnosed medical disorders such as vitamin deficiencies, metabolic abnormalities, medication side effects, illicit drugs…etc. [4] These medical disorders are able to mimic clinical depression, anxiety disorders, dementia and psychosis. [4]

Though genetic, neurological and environmental factors may impact whether or not an individual has poor or good mental health, improving and maintaining one’s physical health contributes significantly to good mental health.

Here are some ways to further enhance both physical & mental health [1]:

  • Following a healthy & well-balanced diet
  • Exercising frequently and being physically active
  • Interacting with family & friends on a regular basis
  • Getting enough sleep daily
  • Setting realistic and achievable goals; working towards them
  • Practicing an enjoyable hobby/activity continually

Despite the current trailblazing research and studies that support Chisholm’s notion of physical and mental health being closely intertwined, at large the global community continues to disregard the importance of mental health and instead prioritizes physical health and well-being.

So it’s fair to say that it’s time to treat mental health and well-being the way we treat physical health. There should be no shame surrounding asking for help or seeking treatment for mental concerns or problems because being sick, whether mentally or physically is beyond one’s control. Therefore, I urge everyone to start perceiving mental illness(s)/health in a different light and regard it as part of a person’s overall welfare that should be taken care of.

As Dr. Brock Chisholm once said, “Without mental health there can be no true physical health.” [2]
References

[1] Mills, Anna. “Physical and Mental Health – How Are They Connected?” Physical Health and Mental Health – How Are They Connected? Article by Anna Mills | Cottesloe Counselling, Perth, Cottesloe Counselling Centre, www.cottesloecounselling.com.au/physical-mental-health.html.

[2] Kolappa, Kavitha, et al. “No Physical Health without Mental Health: Lessons Unlearned? .” World Health Organization, vol. 91, no. 3, 2013, www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/91/1/12-115063.pdf.

[3] Hert, Marc De, et al. “Physical Illness in Patients with Severe Mental Disorders. I. Prevalence, Impact of Medications and Disparities in Health Care.” World Psychiatry, Elsevier Italy, Feb. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048500/.

[4] Dikel, William. “The Relationship Between Physical Health and Mental Health.” William Dikel, M.D., www.williamdikel.com/the-relationship-between-physical-health-and-mental-health.html.

 

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