In recent years, research has revealed the interconnected relationship between our physical and mental health. Our mental state can affect our physical state and vice versa. For example, depression increases the risk for many types of health problems including diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Amanda May, MSW, a behavioral health therapist with Henry Ford Health, has witnessed this connection firsthand. “Patients have come to me after seeing multiple doctors for a rapid heart rate and chest pains,” she says. “They've ruled out every other cause, and it turns out the culprit was their emotional health. Sometimes, when we take care of our emotional health, we can see physical health concerns alleviated, too.”
While we don’t entirely know why our mental and physical health are so interconnected, we do know that when people are dealing with stress, anxiety or depression, they’re less active, not sleeping, not eating well. One of the first exercises May does with patients is something called behavioral action: just getting them up, involved and moving. It helps with blood pressure, diabetes—and can even help ease depression.
Eradicating The Stigma Around Mental Health
More than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime, which is why it’s so important to talk about our feelings and experiences.
“Everyone knows someone or is someone who has been impacted by a mental health issue,” says May. “It’s essential for us to share our struggles and triumphs—it helps others feel that their problems aren’t as insurmountable. I really encourage talking about mental health within your family, too, because there is a genetic component to mental health, and the more open you are about it, the more open others will be to seek treatment.”
Along with talking to friends and family, we should also discuss mental health with our primary care doctors. Doing so can go even further to lessen the disparity between our physical and mental health.
“Don’t be afraid to start the conversation and let your doctor know how you’re feeling,” says May. “Your primary care doctor can get you help for everything from depression and anxiety to grief and substance abuse. In fact, now at Henry Ford, your primary care doctor has a behavioral health team working alongside them, so if they find you need a specialist, you can get a direct referral.”
How To Support Your Mental Health Every Day
Knowing how connected our physical and mental health is, then, is it any wonder that the steps we take each day to maintain our physical health also help to maintain our emotional health? Getting restful sleep, exercising and eating well promote a healthy mind and body, along with:
- Practicing mindfulness. “Meditation and mindfulness exercises alleviate stress and tension and keep you focused on the present moment,” says May. “I like the five senses activity: Go for a walk and find five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. It keeps you observant of your surroundings and slows you down. I recommend practicing mindfulness to start or end your day. It’s a nice time to reflect.”
- Having social support. “The more social connections we have, the better,” says May. “Even with the pandemic, there are so many ways to connect with people, whether talking on the phone with friends or participating in an online support group. Not being isolated is incredibly important for our health—we are social creatures.”
- Being altruistic. There is so much research that underscores how altruism benefits our health. Whether it’s a kind word to a stranger, volunteering, or practicing small, random acts of kindness, giving back will do us—and the recipient—a world of good.
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At Henry Ford, pediatric and adult primary care doctors work alongside a behavioral health team to give you or your child a referral for any mental health issues you may be struggling with. To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.
Amanda May, MSW, is a licensed clinical social worker who treats adults with behavioral health conditions. She is the manager of the behavioral health integration program and provides virtual behavioral healthcare to patients within Henry Ford Health.