Recently, mental health has been a hot topic of conversation. What it is, how to take care of it — but what is almost never discussed is how your mental health can affect your physical health and vice versa. The separation of “mental” and “physical” health has created a misconception that they are two individual entities, even though they go hand in hand. In fact, the World Health Organization defines “health” as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. But just how entwined are they? We’re here to clear it up for you.
Mental Health Impacts Your Physical Health
Many of us don’t even realize how common mental illness is: one in five adults experiences some type of mental illness within their lifetime, impacting things like their mood, thinking, and behavior. So the question is how can mental illness affect your physical wellness? Well, poor mental health affects your ability to make healthy choices. Take smoking, for example. People suffering from depression have low levels of dopamine, the chemical that encourages positive feelings in your brain. The nicotine in cigarettes triggers dopamine production in small amounts, so each cigarette gives a smoker quick moments of relief. But since the relief is only temporary, the shot of dopamine encourages a person to smoke more often and can lead to addiction.
Along with the dangers of addiction, neglecting your mental health can lead to other complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, gastronomical problems, and even premature death. Depression has been linked to an almost 50% increase in the risk of dying from cancer, and a 67% increase in heart disease. The Mental Health Foundation reported that one reason for this is that people suffering from mental health conditions aren’t as likely to seek care for their physical health that could identify health concerns early on.
In a study of over 200 articles done by Harvard University in 2012, researchers noticed that optimism may correlate with cardiovascular health. It could even decrease the rate of a cardiovascular disease’s progression. Julia Boehm, a research fellow at Harvard, stated that in comparison, the most optimistic individuals had 50% less risk of a cardiovascular health emergency than the less optimistic people in the same study.
Mental Health and Sleep
One of the most common physical effects of mental health is sleep. You’ve heard people talk about how they were up all night because of stress about a huge project, or that their depression kept them asleep for most of the day. Statistically, up to 80% of people with mental health conditions also have sleeping problems, while only up to 18% percent of the general population does. It’s a vicious cycle because while conditions like depression and anxiety lead to sleep problems, sleep problems can also make mental health conditions worse.
While depression has been known to cause chronic fatigue and insomnia, lack of sleep also can contribute to depression. Researchers have suggested in early-stage research that treating insomnia early could be an effective measure in combating depression. In a study that looked at 3,700 participants, researchers treated some participants with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help their insomnia. They noticed that those who received the CBT also showed reductions in depression, anxiety, and nightmares.
If you’re struggling with sleep, take a look at our National Sleep Week blog post to learn more about the importance of a good night’s sleep!
Mental Health and Chronic Conditions
People diagnosed with a chronic disease experience long-lasting symptoms as well as mental symptoms such as exhaustion, fear, and resentment. It’s often hard for chronically ill people to cope with both the pain and mental health challenges. About a third of people diagnosed with a chronic illness show symptoms of depression such as sleep problems, low mood, and a loss of interest in their hobbies. Mental health conditions also make it harder to deal with chronic illness.
While getting the diagnosis of a chronic condition could affect your mental health negatively, did you know that some mental health conditions could lead to chronic conditions? Depression and schizophrenia affect the body’s resistance to insulin, which predisposes the body to type 2 diabetes.
Many chronic conditions have overlapping symptoms of mental health issues, such as depression and heart disease, which share symptoms such as fatigue and low energy. These mirrored symptoms can often lead to something called diagnostic overshadowing, which means that many times the mental health of chronic illness patients go overlooked because of the symptoms they share.
Overall, taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health, though sometimes it gets overlooked. Take a look at our past blog posts on how to combat stress to get some ideas on how to take the first step toward resetting your mental health.
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