How Mental Health Affects Physical Health

Few people realize just how close the relationship is between mental health and physical health. However, the two are directly related and people who struggle with mental health conditions are often encouraged to improve their physical health in order to improve their other symptoms.

Mood affects a large portion of physical processes throughout the body. Because of this, poor mental health also leads to poor physical health making it extremely important to take care of the mind as well as the body. So how exactly does mental health affect physical health? Let’s take a look.

Mental Health and Sleep Patterns

The sleep cycle is closely related to mood and mental health. When a person is suffering from mental illness, it typically also affects how much they sleep as well as the quality of sleep obtained. A person can either experience excessive sleeping or difficulty depending on the mental disorder they have.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a common symptom of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People with depression, anxiety, and PTSD often experience long periods of wakefulness, poor quality of sleep, and disruptions in sleep.[1] In turn, poor sleep also tends to worsen mental health, creating a vicious cycle.

Sleep is critical for physical health. It is needed to rest the body and repair various tissues throughout it.[2] This ensures that the organs throughout the body are as healthy as possible and functioning at their highest capacity. If the body is not getting the time it needs to recharge, the person is at an increased risk of developing numerous health complications including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Weakened Immune System

Mental Health and Lifestyle Choices

People with poor mental health are also more likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices. This ultimately affects a person’s physical health in negative ways. These unhealthy choices are usually used as a means to cope with emotional distress caused by mental illness. However, unhealthy habits in diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices negatively impact both mental and physical health.

Eating Habits

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins is proven to increase mental function, physical health, and overall feelings of well-being.[3] As a result, it should come as no surprise that a poor diet consisting primarily of processed foods that are high in fats and sugars has the opposite effect on both mental health and physical health.

People suffering from mental illness, especially those with depression, are more likely to consume an unhealthy diet and engage in behaviors such as binge eating. This is because people with depression will often turn to food for comfort. However, this temporary fix leads to higher rates of obesity, which causes many other physical complications such as heart disease and high cholesterol. This makes having a healthy diet, especially for those with mental illness, extremely important as it promotes improved mental health and physical well-being.

Exercise

It may come as no surprise that exercise has a major impact on not only physical health but mental health as well. During physical exercise, a hormone called dopamine is released which promotes pleasurable feelings.[4] Increased levels of dopamine from exercise help to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, many people with mental illness find it difficult to motivate themselves to exercise.

Many people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders have low levels of motivation. This decreases the likelihood that they will engage in healthier activities such as exercise. Lack of physical activity then increases the risk of developing other health complications like high blood pressure or type II diabetes – health conditions that are infamous for worsening or producing mental health conditions. As a result, the relationship between exercise and mental health is directly correlated. Luckily, even a small amount of exercise can increase dopamine levels, so something as simple as a short walk can serve to improve both mental and physical health. [4]

Alcohol and Tobacco Use

People with mental illness are far more likely to use alcohol and nicotine – two of the most addictive and harmful substances. Many people smoke or drink alcohol as a means of coping with the unpleasant emotional side effects of their symptoms and push aside any uncomfortable feelings. This substance abuse issue puts them at high risk of developing an addiction. 5] Substance abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs cause some serious physical complications and put people at risk for:

  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Seizures

Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Chronic illnesses, such as cancer or AIDS, are undoubtedly difficult to deal with. Although it is normal to feel depressed, anxious, or down after a life-long diagnosis, many people with chronic illnesses suffer from clinical depression as a direct result of their diagnosis. Furthermore, other conditions like Parkinson’s disease or even suffering a stroke provoke changes in the brain that play a direct role in regulating mood, emotions, and behaviors. As a result, depression and other mental health conditions are closely related to the following chronic illnesses:[6]

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus

Similarly, people who suffer from depression and other mental health conditions are at a higher risk for developing many of these diseases and conditions, so it is clear that mental and physical health are inextricably linked. By making good lifestyle choices and seeking mental health treatment early, people can prevent worsening symptoms and/or the development of a chronic illness.

Getting Help for Mental Illness

Overcoming a mental illness often seems daunting and at times simply impossible. Fortunately, with the help of professional counseling and a few minor lifestyle changes, you can get your symptoms under control.

At Voices of Mental Health, we are here to listen to all of your concerns and help you to recover and manage your mental illness. We will connect you with a holistic treatment program that addresses not only the mind but the body as well. Our therapists and caring staff will work with you closely to develop a plan that works for you. With our help, you can get both your mental and physical health back on track. Contact us today to get started on a healthier, happier you.

  1. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Sleep-Disorders
  2. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency
  3. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/d/diet-and-mental-health
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness
  6. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Cayla Clark, BA

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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