The connection between the mind and body is often stronger than people presume. For instance, behavioral and mental health conditions, such as addiction, can take a toll on the body. In turn, physical health issues can impact behavioral and mental health, creating a cycle of behavioral, mental, and physical effects.
The relationship is so complex, in fact, experts are still unraveling just how much it impacts our daily lives and overall wellbeing. In spite of the unknown, modern-day research has revealed the extent of the connection’s effect in some areas of human health. Below is a brief exploration into a few of these connections.
What are some ways behavioral and mental health may impact a person’s physical wellbeing? Medical research has found, for example, that poor behavioral and mental health can affect gastrointestinal comfort. Chronic stress, anxiety, and poor habits can disrupt how the digestive tract functions, as well as the intensity of pain and discomfort. It also can affect sleep quality, heart health, and even longevity.
People with behavioral and mental health conditions are more likely to smoke tobacco. Individuals with depression, for example, have lower levels of the chemical dopamine, which influences positive feelings in the brain. The nicotine in cigarettes triggers the production of the chemical dopamine, so smoking may be used as a way to relieve symptoms of depression.
The reverse has also been found, with the quality of physical health having an impact on how we act and the way our mind responds. Serious disorders caused by physical ailments can produce ill effects in the mind. A well-documented example is the increased rate of depression in people after a diagnosis of cancer.
The medical community is working to increase the integration of behavioral health care with primary care (behavioral health integration or BHI) as an effective strategy for improving outcomes for millions of Americans with mental or behavioral health conditions.
The American Medical Association (AMA) and seven leading medical associations have established the BHI Collaborative to promote the integration of behavioral and physical health. Other BHI Collaborative members include the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American Osteopathic Association, and American Psychiatric Association.
At the end of the day, each of us needs to be more mindful of the impact behavioral and mental health can have on our physical health, and visa-versa. For further examples of connections between behavioral or mental health and physical health, please see the accompanying resource.