Next in the ‘A-Z’ series is P for Physical Health. Physical and mental health problems are common. This blog outlines how often they co-occur and provides an overview of some of the factors involved in this co-occurrence.
What is the definition of a physical health condition?
A physical health condition refers to any illness, dysfunction, or injury of the human body. A Long-Term Physical Health Condition (also known as a chronic physical condition) is a health problem that requires ongoing treatment over a period of years or decades. Usually, chronic conditions cannot be cured but can be controlled with the use of medication and/or other forms of treatment. Examples of chronic physical conditions include diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and high blood pressure.
Do physical and mental health problems co-occur?
The relationship between physical and mental health problems is reciprocal, with one influencing the other. Due to this, physical and mental health problems often co-occur. For example, one out of three individuals who live with a chronic physical health condition, also experience a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression (1). This co-occurrence is frequently referred to as comorbidity which is defined as the presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions in an individual.
Why do physical and mental health problems co-occur?
The co-occurrence of physical and mental health problems is multi-faceted, meaning that many factors contribute to their co-occurrence.
Factors involved in the development of poor physical and mental health problems include biological, social, psychological and behaviour factors. For example, individuals who experience depression are more likely to engage in certain health-related behaviours such as smoking (2), excessive alcohol consumption (2) and physical inactivity (3), which, in turn, increase the risk for poor physical health. Several further factors are involved in the development of poorer mental health outcomes in those with chronic physical health conditions. These include, but are not limited to health-related discrimination, social isolation, functionality. For example, individuals who experience social isolation and loneliness are more likely to experience physical and mental health problems.
Taken together, it is important to recognise that those who experience ill-health, whether that is mental or physical ill-health or disability are more likely to experience further health problems. Understanding the factors and mechanisms involved in the development of physical and mental health problems, allows researchers and to develop interventions to protect those experiencing ill-health.
- Firth J, Siddiqi N, Koyanagi A, et al. The Lancet Psychiatry Commission: a blueprint for protecting physical health in people with mental illness. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2019;6(8):675-712. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30132-4
- Jané-Llopis E, Matytsina I. Mental health and alcohol, drugs and tobacco: A review of the comorbidity between mental disorders and the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2006;25(6):515-536. doi:10.1080/09595230600944461
- Ohrnberger J, Fichera E, Sutton M. Social Science & Medicine The relationship between physical and mental health : A mediation analysis. Soc Sci Med. 2017;195(November):42-49. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.11.008