Integrated Physical, Psychiatric Care Critically Important, Study Finds
People with mental health disorders are more likely to suffer from chronic physical conditions than the general population, according to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry
Kate M. Scott, PhD, and a team of researchers at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, investigated the onset of chronic physical conditions such as heart disease and cancer in people previously diagnosed with a mental disorder. Data was analyzed from in-person, cross-sectional surveys of 47,609 adults over an 11-year period. Researchers found an association between the onset of mental health disorders and later diagnoses of physical conditions. Substance use, mood disorders, anxiety and impulse control disorders were linked to subsequent diagnosis of several chronic physical conditions. In addition to heart disease and cancer, they included arthritis, peptic ulcers, chronic pain, asthma, hypertension, chronic lung disease, stroke and diabetes.
The study is in line with what has been widely researched and agreed upon by many scientists and health professionals: that physical and mental health are intrinsically linked and healthcare should address them simultaneously.
“Interventions aimed at the primary prevention of chronic physical diseases should optimally be integrated into treatment of all mental disorders in primary and secondary care from early in the disorder course,” the study authors wrote.
Link Between Physical and Mental Health
The National Institutes of Health reports that the connection between mental and physical health was broadly accepted and integrated into treatment until the 1800s, when antibiotics saw their heyday due to the rise of toxins and bacteria. Over the last couple of decades the concept has taken center stage again. “Today, we accept that there is a powerful mind-body connection through which emotional, mental, social, spiritual and behavioral factors can directly affect our health”, the NIH website notes.
A study published in World Psychiatry reports that a person with a chronic illness is almost three times more likely to be depressed than someone without one. The stresses of these illnesses may play a role in depressive symptoms. Similarly, the same study also found depression to be a predictor for developing illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis and back pain. Other research has found that people with severe mental illness have reduced lifespans and that their deaths are typically caused by physical illness. Unhealthy lifestyles,medication side effects and poor healthcare are thought to be behind many of the deaths.
A wealth of research indicates that stress can adversely affect the immune system. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that chronic stress can suppress the immune system and alter normal functioning of the reproductive, digestive and excretory systems.
The Takeaway: Consider Using an Integrative Healthcare Provider
Many healthcare providers no longer draw a distinct line between treatment for physical and mental ailments. The days when people visit a psychiatrist to address their mental health and a physician for their physical health — and the two providers never speak — seem to be numbered. Complementary and integrative health centers are springing up all over the nation and showing successful outcomes. In a survey sample of U.S. integrative medicine centers, over half saw success treating depression, anxiety, chronic stress, cancer and gastrointestinal problems with integrative methods, and 75% reported effective results treating chronic pain. Offering integrative medicine programs at universities is standard practice now with programs at George Washington University, Yale University, John Hopkins University and Georgetown University, to name just a handful.
As well, a biopsychosocial approach to treatment is becoming the norm at addiction and mental health treatment centers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends treatment that tackles addiction from all angles based on research findings on effective drug and alcohol rehabilitation. This includes medication and physical care combined with behavioral therapy, counseling and clinical interventions that consider the unique needs of each individual. Merely detoxing people from drugs and alcohol and sending them to 12-step meetings is no longer considered treatment.
The face of healthcare is changing, which supporters of a more integrated approach argue is for the better. People seeking help for issues such as chronic pain, mental illness or addiction should consider researching treatment options that address the whole person — physical, mental and emotional.
By Sara Schapmann
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