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Physical Symptoms of Mental Illness

Posted by Erin Fischer on

When we think of mental illnesses, we think of something that we can’t see and is just located in the brain, and this isn’t always true. For many people their mental illness can manifest physically at times. Over the past few weeks, we have looked at how external factors can impact our mental health but what about our mental health impacting our physical health?

There are many ways that our mental health can impact our physical health including:

  • Headaches – we all experience headaches, and they aren’t often an area of concern unless they’re turning into migraines. However chronic tension headaches can sometimes be a symptom of depression.
  • Stomach pain/digestive issues – a few weeks ago we spoke about the gut brain axis and the impact our brain can have on our digestive system and vice versa. When our mental health is suffering it can cause us stomach pain and digestive issues.
  • Back pain/aching muscles – it’s believed that mental health issues can cause aches and pains in the body. This is most likely to do with neural circuits in our brain getting interrupted by the inflammation in our brains caused by depression.
  • Decreased pain tolerance – people who are depressed often show that they feel pain more compared to those who aren’t depressed. There is yet to be a clear reason why, but it’s not uncommon for both chronic pain and depression to coexist.
  • Fatigue – this is because that those who suffer from depression often experience nonrestorative sleep.

Of course, the above symptoms can also be linked to physical conditions and too often medical professionals label them as part of a mental illness, not looking to see if there could something else causing them. This is often the cause for many people if they have a mental illness, it can be hard for doctors to separate what is their mental illness and what isn’t or link everything to the mental illness whether it makes sense or not. This can lead to challenges if you’re experiencing an ongoing chronic condition and having to see specialists who won’t look at the bigger picture and see it as being related to your mental illness and not separate symptoms so they consistently brush them aside.

It can be easy to label people who struggle with a mental illness and physical symptoms that have no apparent causes as Hypochondriacs. Even when the medical tests come up fine despite there being very real symptoms. Hypochondria is a separate mental illness and is an anxiety disorder which causes people to worry that they might be seriously ill or are about to be seriously ill. This can occur even if they have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. People with Hypochondria can also sometimes obsessively worry about the future of their health or obsess about a current condition they may have. While it’s safe to say that we can all hypochondriac tendencies times at times (such as googling our medical symptoms or talking about our health problems obsessively), something to remember is that it is a very real condition that people suffer with and requires treatment such as medication and/or therapy.

Having a mental illness can also be linked to other conditions. New research is showing that if you have anxiety, you have a higher chance of having asthma. This is a relatively new finding, so more research needs to be done to look at the links more closely, but it does make sense as anxiety can affect breathing. Stress can also cause physical symptoms as mentioned in last week’s article, but it has also been proven to trigger autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, thyroiditis, and psoriasis.

Everything is linked and while we often see our mental health and physical health as being separate the reality there is a lot of overlap, and everything is connected. New studies are consistently being done and new things discovered that link our mental health to our physical health and vice versa. To take care of our mental health we need to take care of our physical health by eating healthily, exercising, getting enough sleep and being aware of the that impacts drugs and alcohol can have on our mental health. The same can be said of our physical health if we don’t practice self-care, manage our stress, and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us we can suffer physically. Both mental health and physical health are just as important as each other and we shouldn’t neglect either.

Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Barty’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.




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About Erin Fischer

Am the qualified mental health professional at Barty Single Origin. Write topical pieces with a focus on mental health. Always available on chat, Passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and letting people know it's A-OK to be not OK.


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