What is health? World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.1 Mental health and physical health are linked with each other in various ways and they together affect your quality of life. Do you know about mental health and its relationship to physical health?
Mental Health and Its Relationship To Physical Health
Understanding the link between mental health and physical health is key to moving forward toward managing health, preventing illnesses, and supporting those with mental health conditions and chronic illnesses.
Both mental health and physical health are two facets of your health and are interconnected. The associations between mental and physical health include:2
- Poor mental health raises the risk of chronic physical health problems
- Chronic physical conditions increase the risk of developing poor mental health
- Those having serious mental health disorders are at high risk of chronic physical conditions
While it is known that mental health has a relationship with physical health, the exact connection must be understood. A 2017 report suggests that there are significant direct and indirect effects of both forms of health on each other. The indirect effects account for about 10% of the effect of past mental health on physical health and 8% of the effect of past physical health on mental health.3
Studies have shown that acute stressors can be adaptive and people who can cope well can benefit from such experiences. However, if psychological stressors are very strong and continue for a prolonged period, they can increase the risk of physical health problems. This is particularly true for people with poor coping skills or existing mental health conditions. Experts believe that psychosocial stressors influence mental health and psychosocial treatments can help reduce both mental and physical disorders.4
Mental health and its relationship to physical health can be seen as poor mental health can result in poor physical health or harmful behaviors. Some of the conditions in which their relationship is interconnected include
It is often noted that people with mental health issues may have disturbed sleep, and insomnia. Mental health conditions like anxiety, and depression can cause sleep problems. Lack of adequate sleep can again affect their mental health status, and can even increase the severity of symptoms and make their condition worse.
A recent study report of 2022 concludes that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were more strongly associated with stress and sleep disorders than other mental health conditions and insomnia was more strongly linked with bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD, and schizophrenia.5
Similarly, insomnia is an important risk factor and a comorbid condition for several mental disorders including anxiety, mood disorders, and schizophrenia.6
Chronic ailments or chronic pain conditions show that mental health and its relationship to physical health are interlinked. People having mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, can have a greater risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.
Anxiety disorders present in various forms and have a host of symptoms that may be difficult to diagnose. But if left undiagnosed or untreated it can not only worsen mental health but can also increase the risk of physical health problems. A 2016 study reports that anxiety can increase the risk of major cardiac events in coronary heart disease.7
A 2019 study reports that there is a link between depression and the increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), possibly due to the role of inflammation in both and their interrelation. The link could be due to the negative effects of depression on coping with the chronic condition of RA and adherence to medication, which can cause negative health outcomes in both cases.8
A 2021 study report suggests that patients with schizophrenia have about 50% increased risk of dying of cancer as compared to the age and gender of the general population. The increased mortality is noted in the case of breast, lung, and colon cancer in patients with schizophrenia.9
Studies have shown that depression and migraine are interlinked. Major depression can increase the risk of migraine and migraine can increase the risk of major depression.10
Apart from these, poor mental health can affect mood, which can in turn affect appetite, diet choices, and lifestyle habits. This can lead a person to continue with faulty dietary habits, indulge in smoking, alcohol, or substance abuse, and get addicted to caffeinated beverages or emotional eating. These can increase the risk of weight gain, obesity, metabolic disorders, and digestive issues. Also, poor physical health can result in long-term treatments, reduced mobility, being in pain or away from work, or peers for a long, and inability to function appropriately or participate in social activities. This can in turn affect the mood, and willingness to meet people and increase the risk of depression or fear of one’s health outcome. This can trigger a cycle of poor health with mental health and its relation to physical health at the core.
Mental Health and Its Relationship To Physical Health – What Can Help?
Considering the interplay between mental health and its relationship with physical health, experts suggest a few factors that can influence both for good. Incorporating them into the therapeutic management of mental and physical health conditions can prove to be beneficial.
Studies have also shown that the relationship between past physical health with present mental health is mediated by physical activity. Physical activity is considered the largest contributor to the indirect effects on health. Both mental and physical health have shown positive responses to physical activity. Better physical and mental health in return shows improvement in physical activity.3
Man is a social animal. Mental health and its relation to physical health also greatly depends on social interaction. Positive social interaction results in better mental and physical health. Experts believe that social interactions promote good health behaviors
Better mental health can lead to better diet and lifestyle choices. Studies have reported that better past mental health has shown reduced use of cigarette consumption, which also has a positive impact on the physical health of the person.3
As mental health and its relation to physical health are closely interdependent, both are crucial for the health and well-being of a person. If either of them is ignored, it can have an impact on the other that can ultimately affect the individual, society, and the nation. While providing primary care should be easily accessible and affordable, there is a need to focus on both physical and mental health services. Healthcare personnel should also be trained in mental health care for better health outcomes.11
Also, doctors treating physical and mental conditions must be aware of the coexistence of both poor mental and physical health in a patient and the challenges they face.
Appropriate screening, timely diagnosis, and treatment in both areas are crucial parts of patient care. There is a need for policy regarding the accessibility of healthcare and it is also important to consider mind and body as a part of the same system.12
Management of Mental Health and Physical Health
Mental health and its relationship to physical health is clear. Poor mental health can impact physical health not only by raising the risk of occurrence but also by increasing the chances of not getting a diagnosis. It can happen if their symptoms are ignored considering it to be all psychological. A person with depression may have other physical health problems like pain, diabetes, or hypertension. If their symptoms are ignored their conditions may remain undiagnosed and untreated. Similarly, a person with chronic headaches may have poor mental health due to long-term suffering and may need mental health therapy and not just medicines.