By- Dr. David Prescott
More and more, health care providers are paying attention to the relationship between medical disorders and mental health problems. One the one hand, having a medical event like a heart attack or stroke leads to a greater chance of experiencing a mental health problem. On the other hand, high levels of psychological stress, depression, or anxiety, put you at higher risk for certain medical conditions. No matter which angle you take in looking at the mind/body connection, it is important to take steps to maintain good psychological health.
Is there really much overlap between mental health and physical health? Absolutely yes! Several statistics and facts illustrate this point.
• It is estimated that over two-thirds of primary care office visits are due to stress related symptoms.
• 10-14% of people hospitalized for any medical condition have major depression.
• The diagnosis of depression is estimated to be missed in up to 50% of visits to primary care doctors.
• For certain medical conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, about 25% of patients have diagnosable panic disorder.
• High levels of hostility have been found to predict heart disease more often than high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, or obesity
• Men high in optimism were less than half as likely to develop heart disease than were the more pessimistic men
What are some of the medical conditions most associated with mental health problems?
Cardiac Illness and Heart Attacks – Both major depression and anxiety disorders, like panic attacks, are very common following a diagnosis of coronary heart disease or having a heart attack. It is estimated that one in six people who have a heart attack develop panic disorder, and over ½ (up to 65%) of people develop major depression. Untreated major depression is even correlated with an increase risk of death within 6 months of a heart attack.
Cancer – About one in four people diagnosed with cancer develop major depression. Symptoms of depression may be difficult to diagnose during cancer treatment, since poor appetite, weight loss, and loss of energy are characteristic of both depression and treatment for cancer.
Diabetes - Rates of depression in diabetes are very similar to cancer (about 25%). Not only is treating depression important in and of itself, but untreated depression may make compliance with treatment for diabetes more difficult.
Obesity – The relationship between obesity and depression is complex. In one study, women with obesity had a 37% higher rate of depression than women without obesity. However, it is not clear yet whether depression may cause obesity in some people, or whether obesity may cause depression. It seems likely that both are true! In any case, simultaneously treating both depression and obesity is the best hope for conquering these conditions.
Why is it important to treat both medical illnesses and mental health disorders? While clinical anxiety and depression are more frequent in people with significant medical conditions, it does not mean that you are simply supposed to get used to the problem. Getting counseling or medication for anxiety and depression not only helps you feel better, but allows you to focus more energy on recovering from things like heart attacks or cancer.
What can I do to make sure that both conditions are treated? Probably the most important step is to tell your doctor or your psychologist/counselor about your concerns with both your emotional and physical health. Don’t think that the fact that you are feeling extremely sad or worried is something you should just keep to yourself, or is something that just happens after a major medical event. Ask your doctor, or a mental health professional, whether what you are feeling is normal, and if there is anything you should do to address the problem.
For More Information:
Mental Health America: http://www.nmha.org/go/information/get-info/depression/co-occurring-disorders-and-depression
American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mind-body
Mind and Body: Paying Attention to Both is Key to Good Health
By- Dr. David Prescott
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