We all have days where we feel a little “down” but did you know nearly all of us will suffer an episode of mental ill-health at some stage in our lifetime.

Many people think of mental illnesses as hearing voices and people who behave oddly in public but with statistics reporting as many as 1 in 4 Australians are suffering from a mental health disorder at any time, mental ill-health is a lot less obvious and a bigger problem than you might think.

What is Mental Ill-Health?

Mental ill-health can be transient like the stress brought on by work or family pressures or grief after illness or loss of a loved one or it can be less defined in cause like generalised depression and anxiety which can affect people over many years. It can also be conditions like addictive behaviours (alcoholism or reliance on pharmaceutical or recreational drugs), psychosis, bipolar or schizophrenia.

Mental illness can attract stigma and discrimination, which can be one of the biggest problems for someone with these disorders. About 10% of people with mental illness eventually die by suicide, as compared with 1% to 3% of the general population.

How are Mental and Physical Health Related?

In a joint position statement titled ADDRESSING THE PHYSICAL HEALTH OF PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS released by Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), Australian Psychological Society (APS) and Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) in March 2017, these peak bodies all agree that our physical and mental health are fundamentally linked.

“…our physical and mental health are fundamentally linked.”

Recent Australian research shows people living with serious mental illness are two to three times more likely to suffer from diabetes, and their rate of cardiovascular disease is almost four times that of the general population.

Mental illness, such as depression, is also an independent risk factor for developing coronary heart disease.

What can you do if you are suffering from mental ill-health?

Whether it’s a transient “blue day” or you’re dealing with something longer term, the experts in mental health agree it’s important to look after your physical health as a part of your overall management.

The position statement highlights the importance of integrated holistic healthcare and including treatment from a variety of health care providers to ensure you are getting the best help available.

Look after your mind

Psychologists provide evidence-based psychological interventions to assist with managing mental health conditions. Talking with a psychologist can assist provide you with coping strategies to manage in everyday life, at work, during times of stress of in situations that make you feel worse.

Additionally, Psychologists can help those with physical health conditions or injury to change your lifestyle behaviours that may be contributing to your condition management and overall quality of life.

Look after your body

Exercise is an effective method for improving both physical and mental health outcomes. However, it can be more difficult for people experiencing mental illness to initiate and maintain exercise programs because of the complex nature of mental illness.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists are more than just personal trainers. They are trained at University and experienced in providing evidence-based exercise interventions to individuals at high risk of developing, or with existing, chronic and complex medical conditions and injuries. In people with mental ill-health, regular physical activity under the guidance of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist has been shown to:

  • Improve cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce all-cause mortality risk [1];
  • Improve psychosocial functioning (i.e. activities of daily living, social and occupational functioning) [2];
  • Mitigate weight gain induced by psychotropic medications [3];
  • Improve chronic disease outcomes (especially type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) [4];
  • Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety [5 , 6 , 7];
  • Improve sleep quality [7]; and
  • Increase self-esteem [8].

What should I do next?

If you seek assistance from any health provider they should review your overall health as a part of their treatment. Health providers work closely with one another and may even be located in the same clinic so they can liaise and ensure nothing is missed and you are receiving the best treatment possible.

If you are still unsure, seeking assistance from your General Practitioner can be a great way to help you coordinate and seek help from the right health providers for you.