How Health, Disability, and Ageing Influences Mental Health

How Health, Disability, and Ageing Influences Mental Health

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The link between physical and mental health is undeniable: those who have one or more physical challenges are at bigger risk of developing mental health problems, while mental health problems increase the risk of physical health problems.

Individuals with long-term illness are two to three times more likely to develop mental health complications, with anxiety problems or mood disorders being especially prevalent. Sadly, despite the proven statistics non- psychiatric medical practitioner’s detection of depression in patients with physical illness is low. Likewise, discussion and treatment of emotional problems in the context of physical illness is sorely lacking.

Co-morbid mental health problems have numerous serious implications for people with long-term conditions, including poorer medical outcomes and lower quality of life. Perhaps even more concerning, people with co-morbid mental health problems are more likely to die, and die sooner, from physical health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pulmonary disease, or asthma. Individuals experiencing severe and chronic mental health problems typically die ±15–20 years earlier than the general population, while patients with depression die ±7–10 years sooner. These proven inequalities highlight the failure to integrate mental and physical healthcare and to provide effective and timely responses to indicators of mental ill-health.

The data from several studies show a strong association between substance misuse (including alcohol) and both mood and anxiety disorders. A person with alcohol dependency is roughly three times more likely to experience depression, and excessive drinking on occasion (binge drinking) increases the chance of developing depression. Using illicit drugs or excessive use of prescription medication may also increase a person’s risk of experiencing a mental health challenge. For example, frequent cannabis use in puberty heightens the risk of developing psychosis, and regular drug use has been linked with an increased risk of depression.

Research also suggest that a physical disability exponentially increases the risk of experiencing mental health problems and low sense of wellbeing. There is consistent evidence of a connotation between physical disability and depression, although experiences of stigma and suffering discrimination may considerably contribute to this connection. Nevertheless, new investigation indicates that inner resilience (being able to adapt to change or stress) can safeguard people with physical disabilities from having mental health problems.

People with sensory impairments have been found to be at a significantly higher risk of having mental health challenges in their lifetime. It has been estimated that there is a 40% incidence rate of mental health problems in deaf children, compared to a 25% rate in children that never experience hearing loss.  In older adults who are visually impaired, the frequency of major depressive disorder (5.4%) and anxiety disorders (7.5%) is substantially higher compared to their fully sighted individuals in the same age group.  Once again, it is rational to assume that many of the mental health problems among people with sensory impairment arise from the social exclusion they encounter due to inaccessible situations.

Adults with learning disabilities have a 25–40% higher risk of developing a mental health problems and children with learning disabilities such as Autism, ADD and conduct disorders have a 36% chance of experiencing mental health challenges, compared to 8% among children without.

Our bodies and minds are not separate, so it is not surprising that physical health problems significantly increase our risk of developing mental health problems, and vice versa. Addressing and minimizing the mental health risk for people with health conditions and/or disabilities or the physical health risks for people with mental health challenges can be very complicated as it often involves improvements and changes across several different life areas such as eating and health habits, as well as changes in social and environmental situations.

Experiencing inequality due to physical and/or mental health challenges can be very traumatic for an individual and even for those around you, which is why organisations such as Healing Leaves are passionate about restoring dignity to those who have experienced inequality, trauma, adversity, and shame, through community-based relational intervention programmes.

Read more about mental health.


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