Mind over body or body over mind?

The spring and the prospect of warmer weather is often the time when people become determined to improve both their physical and mental health.  Perhaps by joining a gym, cutting down on alcohol or giving up smoking to impact their physical well-being, or seeking to improve mental well-being by leaving behind a situation such as a bad relationship or unfulfilling job, focusing on more positive thinking or simply finding something to be happy about each day.

However, for some people facing long term health issues, such as diabetes, heart conditions, cancer, severe depression or addiction, the importance of treating both physical and mental health problems is even greater.

The links between mental and physical health are clear. It’s as important to support the physical health of people with mental health problems and learning difficulties, as it is the mental health of people with physical health problems.

A serious physical illness can put people under a great deal of stress and make them feel sad, frightened, worried or angry.  This is particularly true in the period leading up to diagnosis.  Then, for some, the emotional impact of the diagnosis of a serious illness can make them very anxious or depressed.

On the other side of the equation, patients with mental health issues, such as depression, who go on to develop a common chronic disease, such as diabetes, can find that their mental health condition can deteriorate.

The answer in both cases is an early diagnosis of both the physical and mental health conditions and then seeking to start appropriate treatment as quickly as possible to prevent a spiraling down of both the physical and mental health problems.

Symptoms of deteriorating mental health

Depression is quite different from just feeling sad.  Sadness and unhappiness are universal and everybody experiences these emotions.  If a patient cannot cope with those emotions, then treatment may be necessary.

In a patient with physical symptoms it is harder to note the symptoms of depression, but as a rule a combination of low mood, loss of energy, loss of enjoyment or feeling pleasure, altered appetite, disrupted sleep, poor concentration and motivation, loss of libido or a negative outlook, when present for a period of time of at least a fortnight, is a good indication of an underlying depressive disorder.

People with anxiety states can become overly concerned with their physical health and believe they are seriously ill or their anxiety can exacerbate the symptoms of their physical illness.  Physical symptoms of anxiety can include tension headaches, dizziness, palpitations, shortness of breath and nausea, diarrhoea, churning in the stomach, hand tremor and sweating.

Treating mental health issues together with physical illness

It is important when dealing with a combined mental and physical illness to ensure a treatment plan is developed that links the two.  Treatment for mental health conditions usually involves the combination of medication and talking therapies (anxiety management, cognitive behavioural therapy or psychodynamic psychotherapy).

It is prudent for the patient to be assessed by a consultant psychiatrist rather than being referred directly for therapy to allow for a complete diagnosis and treatment options to be assessed and to ensure that any medication that may be required is prescribed effectively.

By ensuring continuing communication between your mental health practitioner and the person looking after your physical health, whether that is a GP or specialist, the outlook for recovery of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety is usually good.

We at Private Psychiatry can help. Dr Winbow has many years’ experience in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. To make an appointment, contact Private Psychiatry.

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