The Connection Between Mental Illness and Physical Health

It’s a perplexing situation, and one that researchers have been trying to solve for many years. People suffering from mental illness are more susceptible to physical illnesses and also have a higher mortality rate.  Studies conduct with individuals suffering from schizophrenia, for example, have shown that not only do they have a shorter lifespan compared to those without schizophrenia, but also that they have more health problems.  However, the negative link between mental illness and physical health is not reserved only to schizophrenia.  This same association has been found in anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorders, and dementia.

It is not entirely clear why there is such a strong link between mental illness and its adverse effects on physical health.  One of the reasons is believed to be that those individuals with mental illness often tend to neglect healthy lifestyle behaviorsa like basic hygiene, proper nutrition, and regular exercise.  These healthy lifestyle behaviors are the cornerstone of longevity.  Certainly, another likely culprit is the known connection between mental illness and alcohol or drug abuse which, by some estimates, is three to four times higher among those with mental illness versus the general population.  Still another possibility is that certain health problems, like diabetes, might result from the side effects of taking certain psychotropic medications.  Indeed, many psychotropic medications can contribute to host of undesirable effects on the body including weight gain, changes in blood pressure, dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, uncontrollable body movements, and even seizures.

While it is undoubtedly true that mental illness seems to adversely impact physical health, the converse is also certainly true.  People suffering from health problems are often more suspectible to mental illness such as anxiety and depression.  This “mind-body” link is now well-accepted in medicine.  The best treatment outcomes often utilize a “holistic” approach combining targeted medication management, evidence-based psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes which can attack mental illness from all angles and get the best outcome.