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4 ways our physical health could be impacted by our mental health

It is becoming well known that poor mental health can have a huge negative impact on a person’s outcomes in life. 

Most shockingly, having a serious mental illnesses can reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years.

But why is this happening? We don’t have all the answers – and to ensure that people can live the full life they deserve – we must invest in research to find them.  

One factor that scientists believe is playing an important part is the impact that our mental health can have on our physical health – and vice versa.

We look at four studies which show how our mental health impacts our physical health, showing the potential that effective mental health treatments could have for the whole body.

1) Severe mental illness and heart disease

A recent study by King’s College London showed the link between severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression and cardiovascular disease. The biggest study of its kind, researchers analysed data from 3.2 million people living with severe mental illness – finding they were at a 53% higher risk for having cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t have mental illness. The risk of dying from the disease was also 85% higher than people of a similar age in the general population.

2) Depression, anxiety and cancer mortality rates

A study that hit the headlines earlier this year discovered that there was a link between high levels of mental distress and an increased risk of dying from cancer. Researchers from University College London, Edinburgh University and the University of Sydney looked at data from 16 population-based studies. They measured the mental health of people through questionnaires, indicating levels of depression and anxiety, who had not been diagnosed with cancer. They then followed those people up over a 10-year average period and tracked whether they died from cancer – drawing data from which type of cancer. The researchers took into account potential factors that could distort the data like age, sex, body mass index, education, smoking and alcohol consumption.

3) Diabetes and depression

Studies have revealed a connection between depression and diabetes – but more research is needed to fully understand how they link. One study showed that people who have both depression and diabetes tend to have more severe symptoms than those who only have diabetes.

Another study revealed that those with both conditions were also 85% more likely to have a heart attack. The research shows the importance of finding people most at risk and monitoring their cardiovascular health.

4) Schizophrenia and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition associated with low bone mass, making them fragile and more likely to fracture. Studies have shown that people living with schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing the condition and are more likely to experience hip fractures. A review conducted in 2013 looked at different studies which investigated the prevalence of low bone density and osteoporosis. The review found that having schizophrenia almost doubled your chances of having low bone density – and one in two people with schizophrenia will also have low bone mass, as well as a heightened risk of developing Osteoporosis. The researchers point out that more research is needed to find robust conclusions on this matter.

These studies show the fundamental link between our mental and physical health – and there are many more like them.

The research emphasises the need to integrate mental health into treatments for other conditions – it’s one of the reasons we’re pleased to be funding Dr Sam Norton who’s creating an app to make sure mental health is incorporated into treatment plans for people living with arthritis.

If we lived in a world where mental illnesses were effectively treated, and one day even prevented, it could have a huge impact on not just our emotional, but also our physical, wellbeing.

Last updated: 22 May 2017

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