Mental health stigma stops us from asking our doctors about depression symptoms, from taking sick days when our mental health is suffering, and from talking openly with friends and family about mental health struggles. But staying silent about mental illness doesn’t make it go away — in fact, it makes it worse.
Untreated mental illness costs the US economy $100 billion per year in lost productivity. On an individual level, failure to treat a mental illness leads to worsening mental health symptoms, employment challenges and financial instability, and in some cases, incarceration or suicide.
Untreated mental illness also leads to physical health problems. Mental illness contributes to chronic stress, which weakens your immune system and increases your risk of heart disease, weight gain, and cognitive impairment. Stress can also negatively affect your oral health and lead to premature ageing.
When you’re not mentally well, you’re also less capable of making choices that support good physical health. Diet and exercise habits suffer, a good night’s sleep is harder to come by, and you struggle to manage chronic health conditions according to your doctor’s recommendations. Over time, this contributes to chronic illnesses including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. When mental health is so closely tied to lifelong health, caring for mental health should be just as much of a priority as caring for physical health.
Professional mental health treatment is the right choice for anyone living with a mental illness. Psychotherapy and medication help people treat mental health conditions and manage symptoms so they live fulfilling lives unburdened by mental illness. Many people face financial and physical barriers to mental health treatment, but community behavioural health clinics, telehealth services, and affordable counselling help individuals overcome these obstacles.
There’s also a lot people can do to support their mental health outside of a psychologist or psychiatrist’s office. Practices such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture support good mental health, as do basic practices like exercising and getting adequate sleep. A nutritious diet is equally important because it can produce positive feelings. Leafy greens, nuts, eggs, and avocados feed your body and brain essential vitamins and minerals.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is also gaining recognition for its ability to ease mental illness symptoms, particularly in people with anxiety and insomnia. Though more research is needed, studies that have been conducted so far show promising results. Both low-end and high-end CBD products are available online and at dispensaries, but it is always a good idea to consult with a medical professional before purchasing, as CBD products can interact with certain medications.
Even people without a mental illness should treat their mental health with importance. Good mental health today doesn’t guarantee good mental health for life, and proactive self-care efforts — like living a healthy lifestyle, managing stress, and nurturing supportive relationships — are the best way to prevent mood disorders from developing.
Despite the fact that mental and physical health are treated like separate entities, these two facets of health are intimately linked. While it may be harder to recognise the quiet creep of depression than the telltale signs of a common cold or a broken bone, the condition of your mind has just as big an impact on your well-being as the condition of your body. Only by treating your mental health as a priority can you achieve true lifelong health.
This article was kindly written and contributed by June Lawrence