How are mental health and physical health related?
A clear distinction is often made between 'mind' and 'body'. But mental health and physical health should not be thought of as separate. There are various ways in which poor mental health has been shown to be detrimental to physical health and vice versa.
For example, in the US, the average life expectancy has increased steadily to 78.6 years. However, the average life span for people with serious mental illness ranges from 49 – 60 years (NIMH). This is 25-30 years less than the general public.
Additionally, people with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing heart diseases than the general population (NAMI). The second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 is suicide. Mental illness and substance use disorders are involved in 1 out of every 8 emergency room visits by adults.
So how does talking about mental health help?
By not talking about mental health, we add to the stigma that surrounds it (what is stigma?). Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment
- Health insurance that doesn't adequately cover their mental illness treatment
- The belief that they'll never succeed at certain challenges or that they can't improve their situation
Stigma also can lead to a reluctance to seek help or treatment. Nearly 20% of Americans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. However, fewer than half of those who experience a mental illness will seek treatment.
Mental illness is treatable, and people with mental illnesses can and do live fulfilling, productive, and happy lives. But the longer mental health conditions go untreated, the more severe they become.
What are some ways to normalize the mental health conversation?
Talk Openly About Mental Health - It's perfectly normal to talk to friends, family, and coworkers about seeing a doctor if you have the flu or a broken leg. Talking about seeing a therapist because you're depressed normalizes the mental health conversation in a similar way. If you're talking to a friend or loved one, be direct. Being hesitant to talk about mental health only adds to the notion that it's a taboo topic.
Educate Yourself and Others - Do your own research about mental illness and share that information with others. Most of us know the differences between physical ailments such as a cold, a sprain, cancer, etc. We don't refer to them under a singular "physical illness" umbrella. Similarly, there are many different mental illnesses, each with their own unique symptoms and behaviors. Sharing information eliminates misconceptions that contribute to stigma.
Be Conscious of Language - Mental health conditions are often used negatively as adjectives, which is problematic. Try to be conscious of the words you use to describe people, things, and behaviors that you think are different.