According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 45 million people had a mental illness within the past year. To break that down further, up to one in four, or 25 percent, of adults suffer from a mental illness at any given time. We all know someone who battle the symptoms of a variety of illnesses, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Mental health symptoms alone can be debilitating and major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability for younger adults (ages 15-44). Depression can lead to feelings of despair, feelings of low self-esteem or hopelessness, low energy, changes in eating/sleeping and a general loss of joy and motivation for life. Anxiety can result in endless worrying often accompanied by physical symptoms, including but not limited to: increased heart rate, sweating, feelings of being light headed, agitation and constant nervousness.
According to the Center for Disease Control, mental illness is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, psoriasis and even cancer. Individuals who experience both mental illness and a serious physical illness, such as heart disease, are also more likely to die from their illness when compared to others who do not have mental health problems. Anxiety usually triggers the “fight or flight” response, which results in our central nervous system speeding up and the stress hormone, cortisol, being released along with adrenaline. Too much cortisol is linked to all sorts of health issues.
Physical disorders, such as cancer or heart disease, can lead to individuals wondering about their future and quality of life, which can feel depressing and anxiety-provoking. What is also very likely is that individuals who struggle with mental illness are less likely to participate in self-care activities and receive appropriate medical care.
People with depression are twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as those without depression and people with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke. The increase in tobacco use may be the result of individuals with mental illness looking for temporary relief from their symptoms-cigarettes offer a temporary increase in dopamine, which is the “feel-good” chemical our brain naturally releases. Those that experience depression can have less “feel-good” chemicals in their brain, leading to unhealthy behaviors that temporarily mask this deficit. Individuals with mental illness are also much more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. In addition, those with mental illness are less likely to participate in exercise plans, maintain regular visits with healthcare professionals, follow through on medication suggestions and maintain a healthy diet.
The good news: regular self-care actually decreases the chances of experiencing BOTH mental health and physical health symptoms! The other good news: there are effective treatment options for mental health issues and those that receive treatment for mental illnesses can overcome and manage symptoms while reducing or eliminating the risk of physical problems.