Physical health and mental health are connected in several different ways. When one is good the other will likely follow suit, but the opposite is also true. If one is bad, the other may suffer as well.
The Relationship Between Physical Health & Mental Health
On the one hand, mental health may impact a person’s physical health. One study suggests that good mental health and psychological well-being can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.1 Similarly, poor mental health may have the opposite effect. According to some research, depression is believed to be a strong predictor of heart attacks.2
Not only can someone’s mental health impact their physical health, but also it can go the other way around. Several studies have shown that regular exercise can improve overall mental health as well as reduce anxiety and depression.3 Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, and poor physical health may lead to poor mental health. In some cases, the psychological effects of chronic illness or serious injuries may be detrimental.
The Psychological Impact of Injury, Illness, and Disease
When someone’s physical health is poor, especially because of a chronic illness or disease, it can have a serious impact on their mental health.
Physical injuries and mental health, for example, can be strongly connected. Especially if an athlete is no longer able to compete because of an injury, their mental health may suffer. In fact, injury is considered one of the leading psychological stressors for athletes and is typically associated with an increased risk of mental illness like depression.4 For example, 33% of Division I football players who were injured reported high levels of depressive symptoms and need for depression treatment.
Chronic illness and mental health have a similar relationship. The psychological effects of chronic diseases may include an increased risk of developing a mental illness. Of patients with conditions like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, 20 to 25% also have a mood disorder. Typically, the more severe the condition, the more negative the mental health impact as well. For patients with cancer or needing acute care, this number jumps up to 30% or higher.6
Research on ICU patients also found that survivors had a higher risk of suicide and self-harm than hospital patients not in the ICU.7 Being in the ICU and fighting for their life can be a traumatic experience and this trauma may translate to poor mental health or mental illness.
How to Cope with Poor Mental Health from Illness or Injury
Because of how physical health impacts mental health, it is important for people struggling with an injury or serious illness to also pay attention to their psychological and emotional well-being.
If you are struggling with the negative effect of poor physical health on your mental health, here are some things you can do:
- Try to improve your physical health if you can
- Stay on top of your physical health treatments, therapy, etc.
- Take time for self-care and to relax
- Try to distract yourself from your illness or injury
- Avoid turning to drugs and alcohol as they usually make you feel worse in the end or lead to addiction
- Reach out to friends and family for support
- Get professional mental health services