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The Relationship Between Mental Health and Physical Health

Mental health is one of the most neglected aspects of our wellness, and there are a number of reasons for this. One of the main reasons is that our understanding of mental health is nowhere as extensive as our understanding of physical health. But perhaps a more pertinent reason is that society views mental health differently from physical health.

In part, there is a judgmental aspect to how we approach mental illness. Think about it – If you knew the man at the traffic lights who begs for money was dying of cancer, you would probably feel sorry for him; but when you see him behaving strangely and talking to himself, you probably feel rather repulsed by his perceived mental illness and quickly close your car windows. Another component is that we personally do not take our mental health seriously enough. When you feel depressed or anxious, you usually just think to yourself it will pass, or you grab a beer or a cigarette, and binge watch television to temporarily escape from your unhappy reality. And yet, neglecting your mental health can have profound negative effects on many aspects of your life. We will be exploring several aspects of mental health. Today, we want to look into the relationship between mental health and physical health.

If you had a physical ailment, you would presumably seek medical assistance as quickly as possible. Would you do the same if you had a mental illness? And what if you knew that your mental illness, however seemingly innocuous, can have a direct negative effect on your physical health? Would you be more concerned then? Would you seek medical help more urgently? Well, for that matter, mental health has been shown to be closely linked to physical health. Poor physical health can affect your mental health, and poor mental health can have a significant negative effect on your physical health, leading, in particular, to an increased risk of several conditions. Depression and anxiety, for example, have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, while schizophrenia has been linked to an increased risk of respiratory diseases as well as heart disease and osteoporosis. Bipolar disorders and other severe mental illnesses have also been shown to be associated with cardiovascular diseases. The skin illness psoriasis has a very close connection to long term poor mental health. Studies have also shown a close link between diabetes and depression though not much is understood about this connection yet. And of course, we all know how stress and anxiety can lead to increased blood pressure, headaches and migraines, and physical fatigue. Another important link to consider is that people with even slight mental disorders like anxiety are less likely to seek medical assistance and are more prone to risky health behaviours such as smoking, binge eating, using drugs and alcoholism. In addition, people with severe mental illnesses are more likely to inflict self-damage and are also prone to suicide. In general, having a serious mental illness can reduce your life expectancy by as much as 20 years! Lifestyle factors can be the most important moderators of our mental health and we will explore these in more detail here on DR1224 in the future. There are several intuitively obvious things we can do to improve our mental health, including regular exercise and other physical activity, an improved diet, and better sleep patterns. If you smoke or drink a lot, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake can also significantly improve your metal health.

There are also more subtle things we can do to improve our mental health. This includes learning to express our feelings and emotions in appropriate ways, living a balanced life that allows you to focus on things that are important to you, developing resilience through various means including social and family support, maintaining a positive and clear perspective and sense of purpose, and calming your body and mind through meditation and other activities that you find help you to achieve peace. In a nutshell, to achieve good mental health, take good care of yourself and be kind to yourself and to others. A proactive and positive approach to life is one of the best bulwarks against mental illness. And talk to your doctor about your mental state. Discuss your anxieties and your stresses. She or he may be able to help you much more than you expect. Follow us here on DR1224 for tips, articles and discussions on mental health and other aspects of your health and wellness. We strive to be able to contribute, however we can, to your overall wellbeing.

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