The term “mental health” gets thrown around a lot, but that’s because it matters. Mental health is everything related to your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. If your mental health is suffering for any reason, it can affect not only your job and relationships but your physical health as well.
The Relationship Between Mental Health and Physical Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) has famously said, “There is no health without mental health.” Your mental health is part of your overall health.
When you have poor mental health, you can also experience a decline in physical health. Studies show that severe mental illness can decrease your life span by 10-20 years.
For example, depression can interfere with your sleep, cause an increase in headaches or stomach aches, cause your hair to fall out, and increase your heart disease risk, among other things.
Alternatively, when you have poor physical health, it can cause your mental health to decline as well. For example, if you are dealing with a chronic illness, the ongoing difficulties can lead to depression.
But there can be positive effects, too. Exercise has been shown to not only support your physical health but increase your mental health. And when you are doing well mentally, you’re more likely to take care of yourself physically.
The Link Between Mental Health and Cancer
Mental health and cancer can be just as closely connected. Not only is there a link between high levels of mental distress and a greater chance of dying from cancer, but cancer can cause mental health problems.
Researchers from the University of Sydney and the University College London, Edinburgh University, found that individuals with the highest stress levels were 32% more likely to develop and die from cancer over ten years.
Other statistics that show the impacts of a cancer diagnosis and treatments on your mental health include:
- > Cancer survivors often meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
- > 45% of cancer survivors experience anxiety, while up to 25% deal with symptoms of depression.
- > One-third of people with cancer—especially of the breast, head, or neck—experience mental or emotional distress.
- > Cancer survivors also have twice the rate of suicide as the general population.
While a positive attitude isn’t a cure or a vaccine, it may improve your odds of surviving with minimal mental health deficits. Other alternative or holistic methods may help, too, such as yoga and meditation.
Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness
Be sure to talk with your doctor if you experience any signs of mental health issues, such as:
- Feeling sad or down
- Changes in eating habits
- Problems with substance abuse
- Overwhelming fears, worries, or feelings of guilt
- Withdrawing from friends or activities
- Changes in sleep habits or energy levels
- Changes in sex drive
- Inability to concentrate
- Thoughts of suicide
- Extreme mood swings
- Inability to cope with average amounts of stress
- Excessive anger or trouble controlling emotions
Support Your Mental Health and Your Immune System
The most important thing is to do something, to try something. If you wallow in your mental doldrums without trying—psychotherapy or antidepressants—your physical health is likely to suffer. Even if it doesn’t turn into cancer, it could cause some less deadly illness that nevertheless robs you of the joy of living.
And then be sure to work on both your physical and mental health to support your immune system and overall health. You can do this through exercise, meditation, eating healthy, volunteering, developing coping skills, counseling, and getting enough sleep.