Understanding the Mind and Body Connection

Mental and physical health are inseparable – the invisible line between the mind and body is imaginary. Our thoughts reside in the brain, and the brain lives in the body. It’s effected by what we eat, how we spend our time, and our overall health.
Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
Multiple social, psychological, and biological factors determine the level of mental health of a person at any point of time. Mental illness certainly has a biological component (genetic predisposition and chemical changes in the brain) but poor mental health is also associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence, and physical ill-health.
Mental disorders include a wide spectrum of conditions, such as depression. It is a common mental disorder with an estimated 300 million people being affected by it globally. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and it has been the case for many years.
Depression is characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, tiredness, and poor concentration. Sufferers may also have multiple physical complaints with no apparent physical cause. Depression can be long-lasting or recurrent, substantially impairing a persons’ ability to function at work or school and to cope with daily life. At its most severe stage, depression can lead to suicide.
However, there are effective treatments to cope with this mental illness. Mild to moderate depression can be effectively treated with talking therapies, such as cognitive behaviour therapy or psychotherapy. Antidepressants can also be an effective form of treatment for moderate to severe depression. In addition to support from health care services, people with mental illness require social support and care. There is a bi-directional relationship between mental and physical health; persons with chronic physical conditions (such as hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, cancer) have higher rates of depression and anxiety. On the other hand, depression can lead to poor lifestyle decisions, such as unhealthy eating, less exercise, smoking, alcohol abuse, and weight gain.
Unfortunately, health systems have not yet adequately responded to the burden of mental disorders. As a consequence, there is a global gap between the need for treatment and its provision. Specifically, in low- and middle-income countries, between 76% and 85% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment. In high-income countries, between 35% and 50% of people with mental disorders are in the same situation.
Mental health and well-being are fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life. On this basis, the promotion, protection and restoration of mental health can be regarded as a vital concern of individuals, communities and societies throughout the world.
Many people out there who have gone through or are going through something similar may include your loved ones. But we will never be able to understand another person’s well-being unless we connect and talk with one another. We need to share, be heard, need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Let’s work toward being more conscious of our mental health instead of resorting to feeling like we have a physical illness.

Dr. Sabrina Kazia (M.D, MMed Psychiatry)
Aga Khan Health Board for Tanzania

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