Mind and Body - The link between Mental and Physical Health
The link between physical and mental health appears bidirectional. For example, many who experience severe or long standing physical health problems may find their mood or anxiety levels affected. Indeed, it has been reported that mental health difficulties such as depression, can both precipitate and be exacerbated by the onset of chronic illness (Chapman, Perry, & Strine 2005). Moreover, patients with cardiovascular disease who also experience depression are reported to have higher mortality rates than those who do not (Nemeroff & Goldschmidt-Clermont 2012), suggesting mental health can play a role in the course and outcomes of physical ill health.
It’s not difficult to imagine that after receiving the news of a chronic or life threatening physical illness, you may need a period of time to adjust and accept this information. In some cases a person may require additional support to cope. This could be in the form of social, medical, or psychological support. Research by De Ridder and colleagues (2008) suggests the following series of steps to facilitate successful adjustment to the challenges of illness: staying as active as reasonably possible, acknowledging and expressing your emotions, engaging in self-care, and trying to focus on any potential positive outcomes of the illness.
It is estimated that approximately 60% of the increased mortality rates seen in those with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can be attributed to physical illness. This increase is reported at two to three times as high as the general population and translates to approximately 13-30 years reduction in lifespan (De Hert et al., 2011). This seems to be explained by a number of factors including: the person’s lifestyle choices, their somatic complaints being overlooked or sidelined, and overall disparities in access and utilisation of healthcare services within the population (De Hert et al., 2011). It therefore seems crucial there is more integration between mental and physical healthcare in terms of how services are structured and care provided.
Whilst the link between physical and mental health may be complex, there is always support available. If you are concerned about either your physical or mental health you can talk to your GP who will know how to help. Alternatively, some people find comfort in joining a support group which can help them to meet others experiencing similar difficulties. (See a list here)