Physical health and mental health

We often think of our mind and body as separate, but our mental health and physical health are interconnected.

*Last updated: 9 July 2021

Physical health problems significantly increase our risk of developing mental health problems, and vice versa.

Nearly one in three people with a long-term physical health condition also has a mental health problem, most often depression or anxiety.

How does my mental health affect my physical health?

Research shows that people with a mental health problem are more likely to have a preventable physical health condition such as heart disease.

This can be for a variety of reasons, including:

  • genetics. The genes that make it more likely that you will develop a mental health problem may also play a part in physical health problems
  • low motivation. Some mental health problems or medications can affect your energy or motivation to take care of yourself
  • difficulty with concentration and planning. You may find it hard to arrange or attend medical appointments if your mental health problem affects your concentration
  • lack of support to change unhealthy behaviour. Healthcare professionals may assume you’re not capable of making changes, so won’t offer any support to cut down on drinking or give up smoking, for example
  • being less likely to receive medical help. Healthcare professionals may assume your physical symptoms are part of your mental illness and not investigate them further. People with a mental illness are less likely to receive routine checks (like blood pressure, weight and cholesterol) that might detect symptoms of physical health conditions earlier.

As well as this, mental health problems can come with physical symptoms. Our bodies and minds are not separate, so it’s not surprising that mental ill health can affect your body. Depression can come with headaches, fatigue and digestive problems, and anxiety can create an upset stomach, for example. Other symptoms can include insomnia, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.

What can I do to help myself?

Having a mental health problem doesn’t mean it’s inevitable that you will develop a physical health problem. There are things you can do to give yourself the best chance of staying physically well.

Exercise

Physical activity is a great way to keep you physically healthy as well as improving your mental wellbeing. Research shows that doing exercise releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking can improve your mental alertness, energy and mood.

Whether you’re tending your garden or running a marathon, exercise can significantly improve your quality of life. For more tips on ways to get started, read our guide How to look after your mental health using exercise.

Eat well

Eating well can improve your wellbeing and your mood. A balanced diet is one that includes healthy amounts of proteins, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. The food we eat can influence the development, management and prevention of numerous mental health conditions including depression and dementia

Stop smoking

Smoking has a negative impact on both mental and physical health. Many people with mental health problems believe that smoking relieves their symptoms, but these effects are only short-term. It’s never too late to quit, and there is now a lot of support available to help you give up.

Make an appointment with your GP

If you’re worried about your physical health, or you’ve been invited for a routine check or screening, make an appointment to see your GP. If you find it hard to talk to healthcare professionals or are worried you won’t be listened to, you could bring someone to help you assert yourself. This could be a friend, relative or professional advocate. Mind has more information on finding an advocate.