Mind over matter: how mental health can affect your physical health

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Health also includes mental health

When you think of your health, do you think only about your body? What about your mind? As it turns out, health is a combination of how your body and mind work together.

Mental health conditions can include depression, anxiety, dementia, bipolar disorder and more. If you’ve experienced a mental health condition, you’re not alone. In fact, 1 in 5 people aged 55 years and older experience a mental health condition. The most common is depression, which is often untreated or under-treated because it goes undiagnosed.

These conditions can determine how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. What’s more, your mental health can impact your physical health.

Exploring the mental and physical health connection

Have you ever noticed times when your mood feels low and you feel physically unwell? Or times when the stresses of life and physical health issues seem to go hand in hand? It might not have been a coincidence. Our minds and bodies are interconnected—meaning that issues with one could lead to problems with the other.

For example, people with mental health conditions are more likely to have a preventable physical health condition like heart disease. Untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can even make the heart disease worse. Depression can also make it harder to treat chronic diseases and can cause headaches, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.

Your physical health can affect your mental health too. Has a physical-health challenge made you feel depressed, anxious, frustrated or helpless over the long term? The mind-body connection works both ways: from your mind to your body and from your body to your mind. That’s why older adults with physical health conditions like heart disease tend to have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy.

Mental health factors you might face

Lots of things can contribute to mental health issues, such as genetics, life experiences like trauma or grief, family history of mental health problems and lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. As you get older, it’s possible that you could experience some additional factors that can contribute to mental health issues, including:

– Losing a loved one

– Dealing with a serious illness

– Feelings of loneliness

– Not feeling valued

– Lack of independence

You might be able to prevent some of these by trying to stay social, nurturing close relationships, staying active and eating well. Our health and lives might change as we age, and those changes can affect our mental health. It’s during those challenging times that getting the right care could make a difference.

Challenges to getting mental health care

If you’ve encountered mental health issues but haven’t gotten the treatment you need, you’re in the same situation as two-thirds of all seniors. Getting to the doctor can be a challenge if you have a fixed income or don’t have reliable transportation. You might even face additional challenges if you’re a racial or ethnic minority; finding a provider who can relate to you or feeling like it’s wrong of you to need mental health care might be part of your cultural experience.

When you’re feeling down or not like yourself, it can be hard to do the things you normally love like being active or social. Because of that, your weight could change. Getting regular checkups with your primary care doctor can help detect concerns earlier.

If you’ve been through a vicious cycle like this, don’t be hard on yourself—the problem isn’t you, it’s the one or more mental and physical conditions you’re experiencing. The right providers can offer support to help overcome these challenges to accessing the care you need.

Start with your primary care doctor

The good news is that mental health conditions can be treated through lifestyle changes, counseling and medications. Depression, the most common mental health condition in older adults, is treatable in more than 80% of cases.

However, different conditions can happen at the same time, which could make diagnosing them difficult. That’s why it’s important that you get care from a qualified professional. While psychiatric and other mental health professionals can offer you high-quality mental health care services, your primary care doctor can also be a great resource.

Primary care doctors are trained to help their patients with both their physical and mental health in a compassionate manner. Medical and mental health care are often separate in the healthcare system, but primary care providers can serve as a collaborative care hub to help you get the whole-person care you need.

Helping you get coordinated care

Ilumed works with providers to give you access to team-based care that supports you in the exam room as well as at home. In addition to care from your primary care doctor and their staff, you also get support from ilumed case managers, disease managers and outreach staff who can support your care in many ways:

– Help you make lifestyle adjustments

– Check in about your treatment plan

– Set up doctor appointments

– Schedule transportation to and from the doctor

Ilumed helps make care as simple and stress free as possible, making it easier for you to get the care you need.

Make mental health a priority and consult your primary care doctor about any mental health concerns. Find even more health and wellness tips on ilumed’s blog at ilumed.com/resources.

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