Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked. The effects that physical health can have on mental health have been well documented through years of scientific research, but it is only more recently that the reverse has been examined. In this blog, we’ll look at the effects that mental health can have on the body.
The primary factor in mental health conditions affecting the body is how they alter our lifestyle. Conditions like depression or agoraphobia make us less likely to go out and exercise. This makes people more susceptible to conditions like coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and any number of problems. Almost any mental condition could be said to impact your physical health in this indirect way, but some are more damaging than others.
Certain mental health conditions may affect our bodies in far more direct ways. Anorexia for example is an emotional disorder that drives a person to refuse to eat, in the hopes that they will either lose or avoid gaining weight. Although the condition is technically a mental one, it should also be viewed with physical health in mind, as it directly impacts our bodies.
A rarer but still very real possibility is that our bodies could be affected psychosomatically. Similar to the placebo effect, a psychosomatic symptom is one that materialises only because our minds are so convinced that we have a problem. This could unfold in any number of ways, with some people suffering from symptoms such as headaches, and others experiencing much more powerful effects, such as fake allergic reactions. There is no underlying cause other than the patient’s mentality, illustrating just how much of an effect our minds can have on our bodies.
One of the biggest issues we face in tackling the negative effects of our mental health on our physical health is identifying the problem. There are several reasons for this that are both personal and systemic. Firstly, there is still quite a stigma around mental health issues in modern society. People are far less likely to seek help for mental issues than physical ones, which does nothing but give the disorder more time to deal damage.
Secondly, there remains a sizeable divide between mental and physical health professionals. While this gap has closed in recent years as more research is conducted in this area, the two fields have yet to fully meld together. This means that a patient exhibiting physical symptoms could quite possibly get two contrasting diagnoses from different professionals who approach the problem from different angles. Although there are countless benefits to specialisation in medicine, the fact that mental health as a root cause is often overlooked makes it difficult to accurately treat problems.
If a problem is being treated from a purely physical point of view despite having its roots in mental health, it is far more likely that the situation will deteriorate. For example, depression often leads people to slouch, hunch over, lie down for extended periods, and exercise less often. This is why back pain is a common symptom of depression. Yet if a physician fails to identify the mental health factor, not only could the patient end up on unnecessary medication, they could end up caught in a cycle: they have back pain because of their depression, which affects their mood and causes them to withdraw socially, which in turn deepens their depression, leading to more pain.
The effects that mental health can have on physical health are varied and far reaching. As both our minds and our bodies can be affected in so many ways, there is no blanket approach that can be taken to tackle all of these issues. The best thing we can do is to be aware of the link between our minds and our bodies, and to approach mental health with the same seriousness and openness that we show our physical health.