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Can Your Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health?

There is a fundamental connection between mental and physical health. Living with a mental illness puts you at greater risk of developing various chronic physical medical conditions. It has become apparent that people living with chronic physical health conditions are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety as the general population. In the presence of coexisting mental and physical illnesses, quality of life can decline, illness duration can increase, and health outcomes can be worsened.

In order to reduce the incidence of co-existing conditions and offer support to those with severe physical conditions and chronic mental health conditions, it is essential to understand the body and mind connection.

What Causes Chronic Physical Conditions and Mental Health Illness to Co-occur?

Emotional and physiological changes, as well as social factors such as income, housing, and loneliness, have strong effects on the body and mind. Biological factors, illness experience, and social determinants of health all contribute to the likelihood that someone living with a mental illness or chronic physical condition will also develop a coexisting condition.

A wide range of physical symptoms are experienced by people living with mental illnesses, both as a result of the illness itself and as a result of treatment. The symptoms of mental disorders can affect hormone levels and sleep patterns, and many psychiatric medications can have side effects that range from increased weight to irregular heartbeats. As a result, people with mental disorders are more susceptible to developing many physical ailments.

The way in which people experience their mental illnesses may also increase their likelihood of developing poor physical health. Social and cognitive function can be severely affected by mental health problems, and energy levels can be decreased, limiting one’s ability to adopt healthy behaviors. Motivating oneself to take care of one’s health may be difficult for those with mental health problems. As a consequence or response to their symptoms, people may partake in substance abuse, smoking, or unhealthy sleeping and eating habits which worsen health outcomes.

Societal Factors, Nutrition, and Chronic Conditions 

In addition to facing higher poverty rates, unemployment, and unstable housing, people with mental illness are often socially isolated and lack access to healthcare. These factors make people more vulnerable to developing a chronic physical illness. Several health problems are associated with poor nutrition, including heart disease and diabetes. When people cannot afford healthy food options, they often experience nutritional deficiencies. Similarly, living in an unsanitary or unsafe environment makes exercising more difficult.

Many chronic physical conditions can raise blood sugar levels and impair blood flow, which can negatively affect brain function. Living with chronic physical conditions often results in emotional stress and chronic pain, leading to depression and anxiety. Being disabled can also cause distress and social isolation. Research suggests that chronic physical disorders are more likely to cause mental illness the more symptomatic they are. Consequently, it is not surprising that many people with chronic physical conditions report poor mental health.

Psychological and physical illnesses share many symptoms, including decreased energy levels and food cravings, leading to weight gain, food consumption, and decreased physical activity. There is an increased risk of developing chronic health conditions due to these factors. They may also adversely affect the mental health of an individual.

Common Examples 

Chronic illnesses

Dealing with chronic illnesses can also become more Complex with mental health issues. There is a link between depression and many chronic illnesses. For instance, diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis are all known to cause feelings of depression. Additionally, schizophrenia has been linked to an increased risk of heart and respiratory diseases.

Having trouble sleeping

Like insomnia and sleep apnea, sleep disorders are more common in people with mental health conditions. An insomniac may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Breathing problems caused by sleep apnea can wake you up frequently during the night. These issues can lead to or worsen depression and symptoms of other mental health conditions.

Smoking cigarettes

Smoking is more prevalent among people who have a mental illness than those who do not suffer from such conditions. When a mental health condition is present, smokers are more likely to smoke more cigarettes. Research suggests that dopamine levels are lower in people suffering from depression and other mental health disorders. Your brain releases dopamine to make you feel good. Smoking may temporarily improve depression symptoms due to nicotine’s ability to trigger dopamine production; however, these effects are incredibly short-lived and nicotine’s addictive qualities can worsen feelings of depression.

‌Access to health care. 

There is often a lack of access to adequate health care for people with mental health conditions in many parts of the world. There can be many difficulties seeking treatment, following a prescription regimen regularly, or getting enough exercise when you have a mental health disorder. People with mental health conditions may also have difficulty taking care of their physical health.

Getting Help Early

If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health problems due to a physical condition or vice versa, don’t wait to seek treatment. Earlier medical and professional interventions can lead to more successful treatment and better health outcomes. 

Life Adjustment Team has the tools to help. Our clinic has over 40  years of experience helping people take control of their lives and learn effective strategies for treatment and coping. Our goal is to empower every individual to live well, and you can rely on our Team to provide the personalized, one-on-one care you need. Contact a member of our clinical team to get started today!