The Intersection of Physical and Mental Health

Senior Citizen Mental Health Blog
Physical and mental health

Dr. Kartiki Churi, M.D. 

Mental and physical health are fundamentally linked.

People who struggle with serious mental illness are at an elevated risk of experiencing certain chronic physical ailments. Likewise, people living with chronic physical illness are at higher risk of experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental illness as compared to the general population. There are several factors that could explain this. Chronic physical illness can cause increased levels of psychological stress. Individuals with new onset or chronic medical illness may have to make several adaptations in their lifestyle, work, hobbies, and day to day functioning, thus impacting overall quality of their life. Repeated hospitalization and the worry of managing the medical diagnosis can trigger feelings of hopelessness and loss. 

There are several medical illnesses which are associated with abnormal levels of hormones and neurotransmitters. The chronicity of certain medical illnesses can cause the inflammatory stress to go up and that can increase the risk of depression and other mental illnesses. Receiving new diagnoses of cancer or other life-threatening diseases can be traumatic for the patient, as can receiving diagnosis of chronic medical illness be life altering. Symptoms associated with certain physical illnesses like pain, cognitive effects, impaired vision, decreased mobility, and others can lead to feelings of loss and prolonged grief. While some of these emotions are expected, there are many who develop protracted distress and get diagnosed with mental illness, most commonly depression and anxiety. Some medical diagnoses can inherently increase the risk of depression or other mental health diagnoses. Common examples of these are Diabetes, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Heart disease, Stroke, Parkinsonism, HTN (Hypertension), HIV/ AIDS, and Cancer. It is important to note that certain medications used to treat physical ailments, for example corticosteroids in rheumatologic disease, COPD or multiple sclerosis can impact mood and thoughts adversely. Likewise, certain medications used to treat psychiatric disorders, can lead to onset or worsening of physical symptoms like obesity, elevated glucose levels, increase in blood pressure, amongst others.

Despite this intersectionality between physical and mental illness, often mind and body are regarded as separate entities.  However, most evidence has shown that taking care of the whole person and keeping in mind the intersectionality between physical and mental aspects of our health are most likely to make a positive impact on the quality of life. It can maximize a person's ability to function to their maximum potential, despite the chronic physical illness.  It is important to know that an individual with healthy and positive mental health is more likely to have successful outcomes for other illnesses, is more likely to respond to treatment, have better prognosis and stay stable. There are many noted benefits of psychotherapy and psychiatric medication management. Some of these include, improved sleep and appetite, improved energy and motivation, higher self-esteem, increased focus and clarity in thinking. This in turn helps with increased ability to function despite illness, make decisions related to treating illness and overall improved resilience. 

Yes, indeed, it is time to start normalizing mental health conversations! If you or someone you care for is diagnosed with a chronic physical illness, give Family Care Center a call at (888)-374-5066 and let our providers help you live your fullest life.