Although conditions of mind and body are often perceived as separate, there is a connection. And research has shown that mental health directly influences physical health.
Mental health involves psychological, emotional, and social well-being. Mental health conditions relate to a variety of concerns, ranging from those affecting mood to those that affect an individual’s thinking or behavior. Among such conditions are depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar depression, schizophrenia and addictive behaviors. Compromised mental health can play a role is one’s ability to make judicious health-related decisions and combat chronic conditions such as obesity, hypertension and heart disease.
The population of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to reach 70 million by 2030, according to Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) of Alexandria, Virginia. The organization’s estimates suggest that approximately 6.9% of people aged 65 to 74 undergo “frequent mental distress.” And many suffer from mental health and substance use conditions that result in the loss of functional capacity.
Mental health problems can result from life experiences, such as trauma or abuse; biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry; and a family history of mental illness. Neurocognitive disorders are not normal parts of aging. If symptoms are identified as being related to mental health issues, they should be treated. It’s important to discuss any such symptoms with your provider to develop an appropriate course of action and treatment plan.
Some symptoms that may indicate mental health problems and the need to seek treatment include feelings of helplessness or hopelessness; experiencing fatigue or little energy; changes in eating or sleeping patterns; developing an apathetic attitude; experiencing mood swings, particularly as they affect personal relationships; having thoughts of harming yourself or others; exhibiting excessive behaviors, such as smoking or drinking; or the inability to execute normal routine tasks.
Research indicates that people seek mental health care only after a crisis has occurred. A 2016 study conducted by Columbia University Medical Center suggests that fewer than one-third of American adults who had screened positive for depression received treatment for the symptoms they were experiencing. Earlier access to professional help can prevent the development of mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or depression.
Some strategies can contribute to improving mental health, as well as physical health. For example, consuming a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and nuts can positively affect mental health. Skipping meals can lead to fatigue. Eating processed foods or high-calorie, low-nutrient foods can increase the risk of developing dementia or anxiety.
Exercising regularly, incorporating aerobic exercise or yoga, exerts a positive influence as does keeping a regular sleep schedule. It’s also important to seek support from family or friends. Isolation itself can lead to mental health problems. Remember to maintain a positive attitude and if you notice the development of symptoms that may indicate a mental illness, seek advice from your provider.