The Connection Between Mental Illness And Physical Health
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Mental illness affects an estimated 60 million people in the U.S., yet there remains a stigma surrounding it that makes it difficult for people to talk about. It’s hard to watch a loved one suffer with a diagnosable disorder, especially when their circumstances begin to take a toll on their physical health.
There are many different mental disorders, and they can all have an effect on the body, either directly or indirectly. It’s important to understand that some disorders are not easily seen but can have symptoms or cause behaviors that may tip you off as to what’s going on. Sufferers may process information differently and use their senses in a different way than everyone else in the family. They may talk about seeing or hearing things that no one else can. They may experience wild mood swings or isolate themselves from others, and they might have trouble communicating in a way that others understand because it’s difficult for them to keep up with their thoughts.
Some who are undiagnosed may turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort, to help them sleep, or to numb the painful emotions they face every day. The warning signs of substance abuse--too much or too little sleep, changes in eating habits, a decline in physical health or appearance, and isolation from friends and family, to name a few--might mask other, deeper issues and make it harder to suss out the root cause.
Addiction can cause physical changes to the brain, can lead to severe weight loss or weight gain, and can lead to depression, all of which have profound effects on the body. Weight gain is common in those living with a mental disorder because they tend to live a very sedentary lifestyle. This can become a problem in the form of diabetes and heart issues, which can cause various problems of their own; the kidneys, eyes, gums and teeth, feet, and heart are just a few of the areas affected by diabetes.
Where depression is concerned, people living with a mental illness may not even be aware that they suffer from it, especially if they are abusing a substance. That’s why it’s imperative for the individual to be under a doctor’s care and to be as open and honest as possible about their daily activities.
“Depression among those with chronic physical illnesses is likely to be missed by professionals who care for physically sick patients. This is because health professionals are understandably concerned with the physical disorder which is usually the reason for the consultation, and may not be aware of the accompanying depression,” says Professor David Goldberg.
It’s a good idea to be as supportive as possible with your loved one and let them know you’re there for them, you’re listening, and that you’ll help them get the treatment they need. However, it’s imperative that you include them in any decision-making; don’t assume that they will be complacent and allow someone else to make plans for their wellbeing. Ask questions about their needs, and offer to accompany them to a doctor or therapist for moral support. Don’t be afraid to ask the healthcare provider questions on your loved one’s behalf; it may be overwhelming for them to take everything in and they might forget.
Mental health issues are treatable with the right therapies and medication. Let your loved one know that they are not alone.