Mental Health Is Physical Health

Mercy Health recently sponsored a community conversation with the American Heart Association about mental health and heart health and how the two are linked.

Mental health is physical health. Mental health is physical health. Yes, mental health IS physical health.

I’ve long thought that mental health ought to not be treated any differently than physical ailments. If I have a broken arm, the doctor treats my broken arm. If I have depression, the doctor treats my depression. The latter ought to be as normalized as the former is, even though it involves far more nuance in terms of the treatment.

But I suppose I never quite went that next logical step: It’s not that these are two binaries of health; they are one in the same. Your mental health is your physical health. Your physical health is your mental health. They are one-in-the-same.

I was listening to a community conversation to cover in my newspaper between Mercy Health and the American Heart Association about mental well-being and heart health. They drove this point home about mental health being physical health, which got me thinking about this issue.

Even more to the point, Dr. Melissa Jensen, who has a PhD and is a clinical psychologist with Mercy Health, really drove the point home by showing how depression and anxiety obviously have physical manifestations! I say obviously because, again, I’ve known that depression and anxiety have such physical manifestations because I’ve experienced them, but I still kept thinking of mental well-being and physical well-being as binaries existing in parallel rather than being two sides of the same coin.

Here are some of the physical manifestations she mentioned for these mental ailments: insomnia, fatigue, weight fluctuations, decreased libido, weakened immune system and to the heart context, depression increases one’s risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease, while anxiety increases one’s risk for heart palpitations and increases blood pressure.

In addition, she said depression is a higher risk-factor for developing cardiovascular disease than being a smoker! That particularly blew my mind, but it makes sense given how heavy depression and anxiety are on our bodies.

So, while as Jensen points out, there’s no blood test to know “how much depression” someone has and is experiencing, making it more difficult to treat due to stigma, depression is very much a physical ailment as it is a mental ailment.

I’ve said before that one was of the barriers to my own attempts to get help; I have to bring a lot to the table unlike when I have a broken arm. I have to properly, clearly communicate to my primary care physician what’s going on in my head and how it’s affecting my life. When I have a broken arm, the broken arm speaks for itself. When I’m going through treatment and “recovery” from depression, I have to do a lot of the work. When I’m recovering from a broken arm, the doctor sets it in the cast and the body fixes itself.

Add to that the social stigma associated with mental issues, such as fearing how your family will react, and you can see why a lot of mental diagnoses go undiagnosed.

This might be the most obvious post you’ve ever read, but Jensen making these connections more concrete really clicked in my brain and I hope, if you needed it, it helped you, too.

5 thoughts

  1. I definitely see mental & physical health being treated equally, and in many cases mental health is most important, since I can, say, function without the use of my right arm, but if my mind is misfiring, that will cause much turmoil and quite possibly affect the world around me.
    I agree, personal experience & empathy really help, but at times it can be difficult for an individual to express what’s happening in their mind and for others to understand. The mind can be a minefield, a daily struggle, and, unfortunately, leading to moments of suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

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