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The Mind-Body Connection: Exploring the Relationship Between Mental Health and Physical Health

By Nancy Friedman, M.S.W., R.S.W. - Registered Social Worker

mental health

Research shows that mental and physical health is fundamentally linked. There are multiple associations between mental health and chronic physical conditions that significantly impact people’s quality of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  The WHO also states that “there is no health without mental health.” Nowhere is the relationship between mental and physical health more evident than in the area of chronic conditions.

The associations between mental and physical health are:

  1. Poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions.

  2. People with serious mental health conditions are at high risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions.

  3. People with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health.

Understanding the links between mind and body is the first step in developing strategies to reduce the incidence of co-existing conditions. It also helps to support those already living with mental illnesses and chronic physical conditions.

Many people have a hard time following through with their goals to take better care of their physical health such as exercise, healthy eating, drinking more water, stopping smoking/drinking/doing drugs, or gambling. They blame their failures on procrastination, lack of motivation, lack of time and energy. For example, some people share that they are depressed because they drink too much alcohol or are overweight. When they share their story, I often hear the reverse that they drink or eat sweets when they are anxious, overwhelmed, isolated, depressed or angry.

The number one excuse for not exercising is: I don’t have time. When we look at how they spend their day, we see that they engage in a lot of activities that they identify as not productive like playing video games, watching TV or scrolling on social media. They struggle to identify the reason they choose these activities over exercising; they are lost for ideas.

The Roman poet Juvenal coined the famous phrase when he wrote “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano” – “You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body” around the end of the first century AD.

Achieving both a healthy mind in a healthy body is important and necessary. You really cannot have one without the other.

Sometimes, it helps to engage in counselling to assist in figuring ourselves out. This can help us in reaching our goals regarding our physical health as our mental health challenges are impeding our ability to take good care of our physical health.

(Promoting mental health : concepts, emerging evidence, practice : summary report / a report from the World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in collaboration with the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the University of Melbourne. 2004).


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