mental and physical illness

It may seem like a simplistic question but the relationship between mental and physical illness is a really complex interplay. If you have ever been unlucky enough to suffer from a serious physical injury or illness then you have probably had a taste of how something physical can have really significant impacts upon your mental health. Try and abstain from the things you normally do to relax or use as an outlet and see how quickly the dark thoughts can begin to creep in. Similarly, if you have ever struggled with mental health then you would likely be familiar with the impact this can have on making good decisions and your motivations around physical health. If you are feeling depressed then the likelihood of getting up early for that jog before 8 hours at work, seated in front of a computer screen, becomes pretty unlikely. When we’re talking about the relationship between mental health and physical health, this isn’t just obvious observations or anecdotal evidence. There is serious research behind the way these two factors interact to affect overall health and wellbeing. Research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found that people living with mental illness, particularly severe and long-term forms, such as a psychotic disorder, like schizophrenia, are more likely to develop comorbid physical illnesses. Not only this, they are also more likely to be hospitalised for potentially preventable reasons and tend to die earlier than the general population. Shockingly, people with mental illnesses have a mortality rate 2.2 times people without, and an average of 10 years of potential lost life. Most of this gap is attributed to comorbid physical ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and certain cancers. It’s a pretty grim picture. 

As mentioned earlier, this relationship between poor mental health and poor physical health is a complex one. Some of the reasons put forward include:

  • Those with poor mental health are often also exposed to a high number of other risk factors for physical disease, such as; lower socio-economic status, smoking, poor nutrition, reduced physical activity and higher sedentary behaviour.
  •  Availability of quality health care may be reduced due to things like lower socio-economic status or other stigmas springing from mental health related issues.
  • Patients may be disadvantaged by the current divide between mental and physical treatments. 
  • Adverse reactions to psychotropic medications may have negative physical side effects, exacerbating poor physical health.

If all of that wasn’t challenging enough, there are strong links between mental illness and difficulties in holding down employment, which again, only further increases the risks to physical health via poverty and social isolation. 

As mentioned earlier, this relationship is not just one-way. There is also a wealth of research and evidence pointing towards the impact of poor physical health on poor mental health. For example, psoriasis, a dermatological condition characterised by painful red sores on the skin, is very closely associated with acute stress and depression. Around one-third of people with a serious medical condition, like a cancer diagnosis or victims of heart attacks, will experience symptoms of depression, which can manifest as a low mood, poor sleep and general loss of interest in activities. 

Despite the fairly grim picture that has been painted so far, there are really simple approaches to these complex problems that can have big impacts on people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Much of these stem from an awareness of the links between these two aspects of health. With this awareness, people can begin to make decisions and seek treatments that factor in both aspects holistically. 

Many of the following tips strike the balance of being mutually beneficial for both body and mind:

Get Regular Exercise

Whilst this might seem like the most obvious for physical fitness, regular exercise has huge benefits when it comes to improving your mood and general mental wellbeing. When you exercise there are a series of chemicals that are released in your brain, such as endorphins and serotonin. The impacts of these can stretch far beyond the exercise period. General brain function is improved by exercise and then there is also the benefit of the fatigue it creates, which typically leads to far better sleep hygiene. With a lack of sleep identified as a major factor influencing poor mental health, this is a double whammy. If still lacking energy, despite eating well and getting enough sleep, then consider exploring options around supplements available from chemist online Australia to help with this. 

Eat a Well Balanced Diet

Poor nutrition, including a lack of key vitamins and minerals, can wreak havoc on both your physical and mental health. Australian dietary guidelines suggest eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in bad fats, sugars and salts. To achieve increased exercise it’s important that you are getting the necessary energy and hydration. If you are unable to achieve the necessary nutrition from your food then it is possible to utilise vitamins and supplements, available from chemist online Australia but consult a doctor for advice on this. It’s important to remember that eating healthy doesn’t mean dieting, as this can become its own mental hurdle. Simply be mindful of what you are consuming and the quantities.

Get Plenty of Sleep 

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, over 35% of Australian adults have sleep problems, ranging from insomnia, restlessness, disordered sleep routines or sleep apnoea. Mental health issues and poor sleep is a bit of a chicken or the egg situation. Positive sleep habits; like creating a good area for sleep, consistent sleep routines, relaxation before sleep and understanding sleep cues can go a long way towards supporting better mental health. Supplements, available from chemist online Australia can help to support better sleep but as always, consult your doctor for advice in this area. 

Avoid Substance Misuse

Substance abuse and addiction is a major issue, with up to 1 in 20 Australians having a substance use or addiction problem. This issue is exacerbated among those with mental health problems, as they are far more likely to misuse substances. If you are struggling to manage substance use then ensure you seek help, as this will remain a huge barrier to overall health and wellbeing.

As you can see, it’s important that we don’t view our physical and mental health as separate. A healthy lifestyle involves pursuing things that will be mutually beneficial for both the body and the mind. So, if you know something is good for you then pursue it because it’s highly likely that you can begin to generate the kind of positive feedback loop that leads to greater and greater health, in a holistic sense.  


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Image Author: @suthiporn.hanchana


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