Do you have a physical illness that’s made worse by poor mental health, or vice versa? Let’s talk about the relationship between the two, and how they intertwine.
Think of the human body as a cleverly wired circuit. When one component isn’t working properly, it has a knock-on effect on the rest of the body. Mental health is a vital component. Your brain is wired up just like everything else. So, when you’re suffering with a long-term physical condition or chronic pain, your mind might be under strain too.
This is totally normal, and more common than you might think. Around 30% of people with a long-term physical health condition also suffer from a mental health issue. 1 In modern medicine, the two tend to be treated separately. but if you’re dealing with both, it’s helpful to consider the body as a whole. Mental and physical health tend to go hand in hand.
Why does physical illness affect mental health?
The most common mental health conditions affecting people with physical symptoms are depression and anxiety. There are some simple reasons for this. If you’re in a great deal of pain, or you have persistent and chronic pain, you might be less mentally resilient. Pain can prevent you from getting quality sleep and put stress on your body and mind. This means you’re less able to rest or ‘think straight’, and your mental health may suffer.
Another reason is lifestyle. Certain illnesses can make you less mobile, or unable to leave the house very much. A lack of social interaction, exercise and Vitamin D could make you feel low and lead to depression.
These are just a couple of factors. Illnesses are vast and varied, and everyone faces different challenges. If physical illness is putting pressure on your life in any way, or causing you to make sacrifices, it’s worth considering the impact on your mental health. Taking care of your mental and physical health is key to improving your overall wellbeing.
Indicators of poor mental health
It’s often difficult to spot the signs of poor mental health when you’re physically ill. You may be used to feeling lousy and unable to notice changes in your behaviour. A loved one may be more likely to spot changes, so it’s worth confiding in someone you trust. Here are some things to consider:
- Self-care: Are you neglecting basic self-care such as washing and eating properly?
- Socialising: Are you avoiding seeing friends or being in social situations?
- Feeling overwhelmed: Do you often feel overwhelmed or hopeless?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your mental health may be suffering. Find out how to start tackling your mental health with some helpful tips here.
How mental health can cause physical illness
Poor mental health can exacerbate physical illness if you are neglecting to look after yourself. For this reason, you cannot underestimate the impact of mental health on your wellbeing.
Moreover, research shows that poor mental health can actually cause physical illness, too. Psoriasis is a physical condition that causes the skin to be red, flaky and often very sore. Psoriasis is an auto-immune condition that is triggered by stress. This is a perfect example of how mental triggers can lead to physical symptoms.
Research suggests that mental health is often at the root of medically unexplained physical symptoms. This is thought to cost the NHS £3 billion each year. 2 Poor mental health is a leading cause of poor medical outcomes.
- Barnett K, Mercer SW, Norbury M, Watt G, Wyke S, Guthrie B (2012). Research paper. Epidemiology of multimorbidity and implications for health care, research, and medical education: a cross-sectional studyThe Lancet online
- Bermingham et al (2010). Research paper. The cost of somatisation among the working-age population in England for the year 2008–09’. Mental Health in Family Medicine Vol 7, no 2, pp 71–84