Welcome to our first “hot topic” post! Let’s get started!
Please answer the following true or false questions and compare your answers to those posted below.
True or False?
- Mental health and physical health are separate things and do not overlap.
- Our mental health can affect our physical health.
- Our physical health can affect our mental health.
1. Mental health and physical health are separate things and do not overlap.
FALSE – How you feel affects how your body functions, think of how you feel when you are stressed…most people get tense, some get an upset stomach, their heart rate goes up, so does their blood pressure, it isn’t “just in their head”. There is no longer any doubt that STRESS AND OTHER EMOTIONS MANIFEST IN OUR BODIES. Here are some examples from the scientific literature:
- In 1991, Sheldon Cohen demonstrated experimentally that people with higher stress levels were more susceptible to catching colds, and that when they did, it produced more severe symptoms and lasted longer than in people who reported lower stress levels. This was one of the first of many studies that established the STRESS CAN WEAKEN OUR IMMUNITY TO PHYSICAL ILLNESS, especially if it is chronic stress.
- In 2008, Surtees et al. published an article demonstrating that DEPRESSION WAS AN INDEPENDENT RISK FACTOR FOR DEATH AFTER A HEART ATTACK, a finding that has since been established world-wide!
- In 2010, Agostini et al. commented on the growing evidence that psychological STRESS can have a negative impact on the DEVELOPMENT AND RECURRENCE OF INFLAMMATION and it’s impact on worsening of symptoms of IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME.
2. Our mental health can affect our physical health.
TRUE – Our mental health impacts our physical health BOTH DIRECTLY through PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES, and INDIRECTLY, through our HEALTH HABITS.
PHYSIOLOGICALLY, our emotional state impacts the chemicals (ie. hormones, neurotransmitters, immune cells) in our brains and bodies, it can change how much is produced, where it acts and how responsive the different parts of the body are to it- that is much of what I described above in the answer to #1. That is the part that acts directly.
Our mental health also affects our physical health by affecting our HEALTH HABITS. When we are stressed, we often sleep less, socialize less, eat more, eat more junk food, drink more, smoke more, etc. -> Unfortunately, when this happens, and it often happens automatically…it AMPLIFIES the stress. When we notice that we are engaging in this unhealthy pattern again, that is our opportunity to MAKE A CONSCIOUS DECISION ABOUT OUR HEALTH HABITS, rather than letting them automatically do us more harm. This is the part that impacts our physical health indirectly.
3. Our physical health can affect our mental health.
TRUE- There are many changes in the body that can change our mental health, as we have been discussing above. That is why it is important that if you are noticing a sudden or significant change in your mental wellbeing, that you speak with a physician in order to investigate things further. A few examples of physical ailments that can cause or worsen mental health conditions include vitamin deficiencies, anemia, thyroid dysfunction, certain medications, liver disease and many more.
As you can see, physical and mental health are intimately connected, so when we make choices to promote our mental health, we are also improving our physical health and vice versa!As the Minister of Health for Guyana once said: “There is no health without mental health”
Well, that is the end of our first “hot topic“! I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even learned something new! I will be doing my best to make these as interesting, engaging and relevant as possible, so please feel free to contact me with any ideas or comments!
Until next time!