Mental health and... physical ill health & disability
Mental health and physical health are often seen as two completely different things. But how you feel in your mind and body are much more connected than you might think.
Research has showed a number of links between emotional or mental health, and what impact this can have on someone’s physical health - and vice versa.
One example might be the previously physically healthy person diagnosed with a mental health condition like stress, anxiety or depression. That person might start drinking more alcohol or comfort eating as a coping mechanism, which in turn leaves them at greater risk of developing physical ill health as well.
On the flip side, someone who experiences an episode of serious ill health, such as a heart attack or a stroke, may well develop symptoms of anxiety or depression as they come to terms with making changes to their lifestyle, or because they fear it happening again.
Figures show that the life expectancy of people living with a severe mental health illness can be an incredible 15 to 20 years less than the rest of the population - often down to preventable physical health conditions like cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
A study by Kings College found that 30% of people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health condition, while 46% of people with a mental health condition are also living with long-term physical ill health. Research also suggests that those with mental health conditions have an increased risk of developing heart or lung disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis.
We asked some of the LionHeart mental health ambassadors to share their experiences.
"I’ve found from experience that physical and mental ill health often go hand in hand. Growing up I seemed to be a bit more accident and injury prone than most: aged 16, I suffered with terrible shoulder pain and finally, after months of physiotherapy and appointments, was told I was Hypermobile.
Hypermobility is a looseness in the joints caused by weak connective tissues that support them. Caused by a faulty collagen protein, this additional flexibility in your body can cause limitations in everyday life; for me, that means I can be clumsy, accident and injury prone, slower to heal, fatigue easily and am generally always in some level of pain. For those more seriously affected than me, it can mean multiple dislocations and serious side effects like organ prolapse.
From a mental health perspective, I often get frustrated at how easily I can injure myself, which limits the activities I can do without suffering pain in the days afterwards. Chronic shoulder and neck pain, especially in the last two years, has resulted in migraine grade tension headaches. It affects my personal and professional life and it can be hard not to become disheartened and hopeless.
Mentally, one of the hardest things is that my disability is largely unrecognised and for the most part invisible; unless my hip or knee decides to cause a random limp, which can happen (and often at the most inconvenient times, like halfway through a survey or a site walkthrough with a client!). Apart from that, I look no different from anyone else vying for a seat on the tube and have yet to be brave enough to wear my 'Please Give Me a Seat' badge because I’m afraid of being challenged.
The good thing for me is my disability is not life limiting. With physical therapy, exercise and healthy eating I can expect to go about my life in relative normalcy, and the cognitive behavioural techniques I’ve learnt through LionHeart have helped me weather the more extreme days when I’m feeling low."
"Looking back, I can definitely pinpoint a deterioration in my physical health whenever my mental health is poor. Tiredness, lethargy and body aches were always early signs for me during a prolonged episode of anxiety.
Generally speaking, when my physical health is good, my mental health is also in a good place.
This has certainly been the case for me over the past 16 months or so since I have taken up running. Running has really helped me to maintain better health, both physically and mentally."