Physical health and mental health
A clear distinction is often made between 'mind' and 'body'. But when considering mental health and physical health, the two should not be thought of as separate.
Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions.
Since the founding of the NHS in 1948, physical care and mental health care have largely been disconnected. There is an increasing call on healthcare professionals to consider psychological wellbeing when treating the physical symptoms of a condition and vice versa. You can read about the work we do as a Foundation to lobby government policies on the subject.
How mental health affects physical health
There are various ways in which poor mental health has been shown to be detrimental to physical health.
People with the highest levels of self-rated distress (compared to lowest rates of distress) were 32% more likely to have died from cancer.1,2 Depression has been found to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease3
Schizophrenia is associated with:
- double the risk of death from heart disease
- three times the risk of death from respiratory disease.
This is because people with mental health conditions are less likely to receive the physical healthcare they're entitled to. Mental health service users are statistically less likely to receive the routine checks (like blood pressure, weight and cholesterol) that might detect symptoms of these physical health conditions earlier. They are also not as likely to be offered help to give up smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and make positive adjustments to their diet.
These lifestyle factors can influence the state of both your physical and mental health.
Physical activity in any form is a great way to keep you physically healthy as well as improving your mental wellbeing. Research shows that doing exercise influences the release and uptake of feel-good chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. Read the Let's Get Physical report for more on the positive health benefits of physical activity.
Physical activity means any movement of your body that uses your muscles and expends energy. From tending your garden to running a marathon, even gentle forms of exercise can significantly improve your quality of life. For more tips on the ways in which you can build physical activity into your routine, download our Let's get physical booklet.
Good nutrition is a crucial factor in influencing the way we feel. A healthy balanced diet is one that includes healthy amounts of proteins, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. The food we eat can influence the development, management and prevention of numerous mental health conditions including depression and Alzheimer's. Read about the ways in which you can ensure you are getting a balanced diet.
Smoking has a negative impact on both mental and physical health. Many people with mental health problems believe that smoking relieves their symptoms, but these effects are only short-term.
- People with depression are twice as likely to smoke as other people.
- People with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke as other people.
Nicotine in cigarettes interferes with the chemicals in our brains. Dopamine is a chemical which influences positive feelings, and is often found to be lower in people with depression. Nicotine temporarily increases the levels of dopamine, but also switches off the brain's natural mechanism for making the chemical. In the long term, this can make a person feel as though they need more and more nicotine in order to repeat this positive sensation.
Long-term health conditions and mental health
The promotion of positive mental health can often be overlooked when treating a physical condition. Psoriasis is one such condition in which the effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms, impacting psychological wellbeing and quality of life.
Psoriasis is a condition which is commonly characterised by red flaky sores on the surface of the skin, but its effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms.
Psoriasis is an auto-immune condition commonly triggered by stress. It affects 1.8 million people in the UK and can impact on emotional as well as physical wellbeing.
- Up to 85% feel annoyance with their psoriasis
- Approximately one third experience anxiety and depression
- 1 in 10 admit to contemplating suicide
- 1 in 3 experience feelings of humiliation about their condition
- 1 in 5 report being rejected (and stigmatised) as a result of their condition
- 1/3 experience problems with loved ones.
Yet, a recent report from the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) highlighted that only 4% of Dermatology Units have access to a counsellor.
The physical and psychological impacts can be cyclically linked: the condition can cause emotional distress which can trigger a psoriasis flare and, as a result, cause further distress.
Some people with psoriasis can feel that their GP regards psoriasis as a minor skin complaint and are dismissive of the emotional aspects, leaving many to continue unaided on the isolating and emotional journey associated with psoriasis.
Last updated February 2016