Too often, when we think about our health, we think only about our physical bodies
It’s easy to tell the doctor where the physical pain is, what it feels like, how it affects our day-to-day lives, when it comes and when it goes. It’s much harder, however, to pin-point our emotional pain, to comprehend how traumatic experiences or difficult relationships may have shaped us, and to understand the triggers that impact us most.
The reality is, however, that our emotional and mental health can be just as important as our physical health — indeed, the two are often closely linked.
The very real and very measurable placebo effect shows us that our thoughts and state of mind has a very tangible impact on our physical health. Just like a physical ailment or injury, diseases such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or other forms of mental illness can have significant, debilitating effects on our relationships and quality of life. ‘Diseases of despair’ – including addiction, alcoholism and self-harm – are leading causes of deaths among Australians aged 15-64.
Rehab: A Key intersection between mental health and physical health
“Your body and your mind should not be thought of as separate, but often they are,” says Dr Kate Beardmore from South Pacific Private, Australia’s leading mental health and addiction treatment centre. “At a rehab like ours when people often arrive at a point of both physical and mental crisis, the intersection of both are very clear -- it’s one of the reasons we’ve got GPs and specialist nursing staff working alongside our therapists and psychiatric care teams.”
Dr Beardmore points to the links between deteriorating mental health and COVID-19 lockdowns or injuries which restrict a person’s mobility and independence, as well as the impact of untreated trauma and depression, which can lead to substance abuse issues that put significant stress on our bodies and can lead to major long term illnesses.
Mental health services in Australia
“The reality is that poor physical health can lead to increased risk of mental health concerns -- just as poor mental health can begin to impact and degrade physical health,” she says. “Something that GPs in Australia are realising more and more is that they need to be checking in on how their patients are feeling and thinking, and prescribing self-care, mindfulness, increased social connection or professional therapeutic or psychiatric help.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has noted that over 1 million Australians see their GP for mental health support every year. “In certain circumstances, a general practice may be the only point of care for people who require mental health services,” the organisation notes, highlighting the lack of mental health services in rural and remote areas, and the need for more training on recognising and addressing mental health issues across the healthcare system.
The physical impacts of anxiety, depression and addiction
Yet despite the importance of mental health, it’s easy to take psychological wellbeing for granted in ourselves and in others Dr Beardmore says. Physical health is tangible, visible and evident; a bruise, a broken arm, a heart murmur. But for mental health, if we aren’t talking about it, sharing, or aware of the signs, it can easily slip under the radar. “There’s nothing visible to alert you that your mental health or the health of someone you love is suffering,” Beardmore says. “There are signs, but you have to be paying attention and aware of what they are. There are pieces to the mental health puzzle.”
She says common mental health problems often begin to show up as physical problems such as headaches, fatigue, stress, palpitations, changes in sleeping patterns, listlessness, appetite fluctuations, muscular tension, aggravated symptoms of existing problems and so on. The reality is that if you don’t attend to your mental and emotional needs, your quality of life suffers, your work suffers, your relationships suffer and your physical health suffers.
This can be a challenge for men in particular, Beardmore says. “There’s this idea of masculinity and strength that says that you should not only ‘soldier on’ through physical and emotional pain, but that it’s weak or somehow feminine to talk about your feelings,” she says. “That’s a dynamic that leads to destructive behaviours and even death.”
Not only are Australian men over-represented in many causes of death through physical injury or ailments, but they’re also more likely than women to die from suicide, overdose or other outcomes from 'diseases of despair'.
“We need our culture to recognise that mental health is just as important as physical health, and to realise that discussing trauma, depression and anxiety isn’t a sign of weakness, but one of strength,” Beardmore says. “Reach out and ask for support if you need it. Talk to someone you trust if you feel isolated or alone. Remember, it’s okay to say that you are not okay.”
Since 1993 South Pacific Private has helped over 12,000 Australians and their families with a comprehensive, holistic program designed to address trauma, addiction, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. If you’re concerned for yourself or a loved one, reach out today by calling our team on 1800 063 332 or taking an online self-assessment to help raise your awareness of potential problematic behaviours, patterns or relationship dynamics.
Online Self Assessments
Learn more about key indicators of addiction, trauma and mental health conditions by taking an assessment for yourself, or on behalf of a loved-one.