For years, researchers have evaluated the correlation between physical and mental health. Dr. Reuben Obaro- a UK-based medical doctor and radiologist- and his wife Ayodele Obaro, a practicing nurse, have both noted the connection through their careers in healthcare.
In the context of the pandemic, the correlation between physical and mental health is even more emphasized. To fully address the needs of patients is to be knowledgeable of their fears and apprehensions during the health crisis. Not only can this help contribute to positive mental health outcomes for patients, but it can also help mitigate the damage that mental health issues can present for physical health.
Here, Reuben and Ayodele Obaro explore some of the ways that mental health issues during the pandemic can contribute to negative health outcomes.
How Has the Pandemic Impacted Mental Health?
Reuben and Ayodele Obaro recognize that the ongoing pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of citizens both in their home country and abroad. Some studies, such as one recently released study by health insurance company Lime Group, have explored how this has impacted U.K. residents.
Lime Group found through their survey that a quarter of employees feel as though they have hit a psychological breaking point, with over half of them feeling pressure to hide their feelings from their colleagues. Another study performed by Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that mental health in the UK has fallen by around 8% since the pandemic.
Reuben and Ayodele Obaro feel as though it is important to explore why the pandemic has had a profound impact on mental health in part because it is crucial for addressing the issue in a holistic manner. Some of the most suggested reasons for declining mental health during the pandemic have been issues such as feelings of isolation, grief due to losing loved ones, financial issues, and fears of contracting the virus.
What About the Mental Health Outcomes of Individuals in Developing Countries?
Even prior to COVID-19, there was a notable mental health crisis occurring throughout the world- an issue that has been further emphasized in developing countries throughout the pandemic. This is because not only have some of these countries experienced difficulties handling the virus, but also lack the mental healthcare framework to make help widely available.
One example is Nigeria, where an estimated 80% of individuals with serious mental health needs cannot access the care that they need. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that one in every four Nigerians are suffering from a mental illness, and these individuals are naturally more susceptible to negative mental health outcomes through the pandemic.
Experts have found that there is a trend between lower mental health outcomes and uncertainty due to the pandemic, whether that be related to us, our families, friends, or others in our communities.
When this is compounded by lack of access to quality healthcare, stigma surrounding seeking out mental health professionals, and a lack of infrastructure for combatting the virus effectively, it is easy to see why experts are emphasizing addressing COVID’s worldwide impact on mental health.
In What Ways Can Declining Mental Health Contribute to Physical Health Issues?
The link between physical health and mental health is commonly misunderstood, with many believing that the two are separate rather than working in tandem with one another. Researchers around the world have since found evidence of the several ways that declining mental health can contribute to negative health outcomes- pointing to the fact that a healthy mind is crucial to maintaining a healthy body.
Acknowledging the correlation between physical and mental health is crucial during the ongoing health crisis as it further legitimizes the obstacles that mental health issues can present for patients. While there are many ways that mental illness can contribute to health issues, a few are the most glaring according to healthcare professionals.
Reuben and Ayodele Obaro acknowledge that there are a variety of ways that mental health problems can impact heart health. Depression and anxiety can raise a patient’s blood pressure, increased heart rate, as well as affect the level of cortisol in the blood stream.
It is also important to note that people that are suffering from mental illness may also have higher rates of risk factors that can lead to heart disease. For example, Dr. Reuben Obaro speaks to how factors such as obesity, lack of access to healthcare screenings, and poor nutrition can all present significant risk for heart disease.
A study by King’s College London found that there is a correlation between severe mental illness and cardiovascular disease- with individuals suffering from mental illness having a 53% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than individuals without mental illness.
The risk of dying from complications of cardiovascular disease was notably 85% higher than individuals in the same age range within the population.
Digestion and Gut Health
Stomach problems are one of the most well-known symptoms of stress and anxiety. While there are many reasons why healthcare professionals have found that mental health issues can cause digestive issues, the most provided explanation is that hormones and chemicals produced during periods of stress can affect microorganisms in the gut.
These changes can impact the physiology of the digestive tract, essentially affecting how it functions. This can lead to issues such as nausea, indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and loss of appetite.
Reuben and Ayodele Obaro both note that it can be difficult to feel at one’s best when suffering with negative digestive health, especially if it may be a result of suffering from mental health issues. For this reason, it is important to combine mental health care with actionable solutions to improve gut health such as staying hydrated, exercising, and maintaining a healthy diet.
Research has found that people suffering from mental health problems are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders than individuals who do not. Sleep plays an integral role in maintaining brain health, and sleep deprivation can have troubling mental and physical implications for patients.
Lack of sleep can notably contribute to issues such as accidents, increase blood pressure and heart disease and spur weight gain. Health experts also recognize that sleep deprivation can lead to other health complications such as increased risk of diabetes and a weakened immune response.
What Can We Do to Address Our Physical and Mental Health?
One of the obstacles of the ongoing health crisis is that it can be difficult to find the time to manage physical and mental health. Reuben and Ayodele Obaro know that maintaining both can be daunting, but they are essential for improving health outcomes and feeling better along the way as a result.
For this reason, Dr. Reuben Obaro recommends exploring resources for both physical and mental care as needed. The mental healthcare sector is experiencing more visibility than ever because of the pandemic, and the expansion of access through telehealth can make addressing mental health much more streamlined for patients.
Dr. Reuben and Ayodele Obaro also note that individual’s in countries with limited access to quality mental health services may also have difficulties finding the support that they need during the pandemic and beyond. In these situations, support through friends and family can be powerful ways to start healing- but finding a professional that can help with actionable methods for feeling better is still crucial for improvement.
Both Dr. Reuben Obaro and Ayodele Obaro speak to small ways we can maintain our physical and mental health at home with the assistance of healthcare professionals as well. It is easy to discount the impact actions such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and staying on top of physical and mental health treatments can have on our bodies- but they can go a long way for our continued health physical and mental health.