Physical Effects of Mental Illness

You might think that spreading awareness on mental health in today’s world is overdone.

Aren’t we at a point now where everyone is suitably conscious of the issues surrounding mental health?

It’s true, we’ve come a long way when it comes to acknowledging our mental health struggles and working out how we can help those who are suffering from mental illness, but we still have quite a way to go. There is still this damaging stigma around mental health, despite the fact it is something we all possess, just the same as we all have our physical health. The problem is that the two are still looked at as separate, but this is not the case. Mind and body can both have a drastic effect on each other. When one is unwell, the other feels it too. So buckle up, because we’re about to get factual.

We can spot issues with mental health by looking for physical symptoms. These symptoms can include changes in a person’s sex drive, increase or loss of appetite, significant tiredness, low energy or problems falling asleep. Poor mental health can even lead to a weakened immune system, making it difficult for your body to fight off infections. Of course, the medication that is prescribed to treat mental illnesses can often have its own effect on our physical state. Symptoms as a result of taking medication can consist of lethargy, dehydration, nausea and flu-like symptoms.

Multiple studies have made a connection between depression and diabetes, with one showing that people who have both conditions seem to display more severe symptoms than those who only have diabetes. Another revealed that an individual with both depression and diabetes is 85% more likely to have a heart attack, proving to us the importance of finding those most at risk to better monitor their cardiovascular health. More research is needed to fully understand how the two conditions are linked, but this is just one example of the harmful influence mental illness can have on our bodies.

Anxiety is something that can have several different effects on our bodies. Physical symptoms include: fast breathing/hyperventilation, sweating, chest pain, shaking and a rapid heart rate. Anxiety affects our excretory and digestive systems, which can lead to nausea, diarrhea and loss of appetite. It is suspected that there is a link between anxiety disorders and IBS. Since anxiety often causes rapid and shallow breathing, it can make asthma symptoms worse.

The King’s College London carried out a study (the biggest of its kind) in which they analysed data from over 3 million people living with severe mental illness. The research results showed that those with a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression put them at a 53% higher risk of having a cardiovascular disease opposed to those who did not suffer from a mental illness; the risk of dying from the disease was 85% higher than individuals of a similar age in the general population.

Of course, this all works the other way around as well, as poor physical health can have a negative impact on us mentally and emotionally. Those living with chronic illnesses such as Cancer, Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV/AIDS have a higher risk of depression, as well as illness-related anxiety and stress. Psoriasis (a condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales that can be itchy or sore) is an auto-immune condition commonly triggered by stress and can greatly impact the emotional wellbeing of those who suffer from it. About 1 in 3 people with Psoriasis experience feelings of embarrassment about their condition, one third experience anxiety and depression and 1 in 10 admit to contemplating suicide. But get this – a recent report from the British Association of Dermatologists brought to attention that only 4% of Dermatology Units have access to a counsellor.

We need to start recognizing that good mental health and physical health come as a package deal. I know that sometimes it can be hard to get out of bed in the mornings, and sometimes eating icing straight out of the tub seems like it will fix all your problems, but we all know how shit we feel afterwards (not saying you can’t treat yourself in moderation). In order to feel as good as you can, you need to take care of yourself in every way possible. This means taking part in regular physical activity – research shows that exercise releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins into the brain. Having a good, balanced diet and staying hydrated is crucial in managing the way that we feel, as it can influence the development, management and prevention of numerous mental health conditions. Get a good night’s sleep – I don’t think to expand on how stressed and anxious us humans can get when we’re tired. Try and develop healthy habits, and steer clear of the bad ones. The habit of smoking not only has a negative impact on our physical health, but our mental health is also affected. Although the nicotine in cigarettes temporarily increases the levels of dopamine in our brains (the chemical which influences positive feelings), it switches off the brain’s natural mechanism for making the chemical. This makes us crave more nicotine to repeat this positive sensation again and again, resulting in addiction. So, maybe rethink picking up that cigarette packet. Those with depression are twice as likely to smoke than others, and people who suffer from schizophrenia are three times more likely.

All of us, especially those working in healthcare settings, should be taking all factors of health into account when looking out for ourselves and others. If a patient is being treated for a physical injury or illness, their mental wellbeing should never be overlooked, and vice-versa.

Mental illness is sickness of the brain.

The brain is a part of our body.

It all needs taking care of, so let’s start doing that.

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