The Correlation Between Physical and Mental Health

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Mental health has struggled to achieve sufficient medical and societal recognition. However, this has started to change in recent years with greater focus being placed on mental health and wellbeing. In spite of the increasing recognition of mental health as a significant issue in modern society, it continues to be underfunded and neglected on a medical and social level. In the UK, mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease yet spending on mental health services consumes only 11 per cent of the NHS budget. This vast disparity highlights the potential bias, inattention and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness in the modern world, as well as the vast impact that mental health can have upon our physical health.

There is a large societal stigma which surrounds mental health, arising from a lack of understanding. One of the largest issues surrounding this issue is the manner in which mental health is assessed. Mental health and physical health are often compared based on the physical pain and illness that both can bring. However, is this comparison scientifically incorrect? In order to answer my question, I would like to explore the correlation between physical and mental health, and how establishing their interrelationship would influence the treatment of mental health conditions.

The most common mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, not only influence our thoughts, but affect our behaviour, relationships, professional life and ultimately our physical health. Focusing in on anxiety, the NHS not only lists the mental symptoms of anxiety, but includes physical symptoms too such as “stomach ache, shortness of breath and excessive sweating” the list continues, depicting that mental illnesses also affect our physical health, demonstrating there is in fact a correlation between the two. Whilst the emotional impacts of mental health aren’t well understood, the extensive physical symptoms of mental health are often far more recognisable.

To further explore the close link between physical and mental health, an analysis written by Julius Ohrnberger, Eleonora Fichera and Matt Sutton confirms the “strong indirect cross-effects in both mental and physical health” and even more interestingly stating, “physical and mental health are associated with lifestyle choices such as physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption and diet”. This correlation between mental and physical health is evident in alcoholism. Of those suffering with alcohol abuse, 40% also suffer from depression. This high figure corresponds to six times higher rates of depression than the general public. As a result, both mental and physical health are undeniably linked in their impacts on our thoughts, behaviours and actions.

This strong link between mental and physical health indicate the most prevalent physical illnesses the NHS treats such as obesity, cancer and diabetes may be caused by poor mental health, due to its influence on lifestyle choices. As a result, not only are their individual effects intertwined but so are their societal impacts. As a result, we need a concerted effort to combat both mental and physical health through combined medical research and joint medical treatments.

I believe by establishing this correlation within medicine by continued research, we would drastically improve our treatment of mental illnesses and treatments. The extensive connections between mental and physical health ensure we should take a holistic view of   healthcare rather than separating it into physical and mental wellbeing. By creating a unified effort to improve mental and physical health, we can further our insight into the most prevalent illnesses today. In addition, establishing this interrelationship would drastically decrease the stigma surrounding mental health within society, providing opportunity for those to confidently seek help and receive treatment that is effective.

In conclusion, mental and physical health are extensively intertwined. As a result, we need to establish the thus far unprecedented link between the two within society and medicine. Yet,  ongoing research and the continual march forward to normalise mental health provides great potential for the future.