Traditionally, mental health has been separate from physical health and I am glad to see that the gap is closing…slowly. A physical disease or injury can definitely affect mood, especially if the disease is chronic. Likewise, a mental health issue can show itself in a host of physical ailments. Our health care system can be frustrating for someone who is unsure whether he or she is experiencing a mental health disorder, a physical disorder or both. Many doctors seek to treat the symptoms, not recognizing that they could be missing the root cause of the illness. On the flip side, a client may be referred to a psychiatrist without having their concerns about a physical illness addressed.
As clients navigate the health care system, I try to encourage getting back to basics as a starting point. Getting back to basics means;
1) Getting enough sleep,
2) Eating nutritious food, and
3) Getting some exercise
While these three things alone may not cure a physical or mental health issue, they do go a long way. If we are not getting enough sleep we are not able to cope with the daily stresses that we typically could. If we are not eating well, we are not giving our body the energy to function the way it is supposed to. Exercise might seem like the last thing we want to do when feeling physically or mentally unwell, but even a 10-minute walk can boost our mood and increase our blood flow and circulation.
Getting adequate sleep, exercising, and eating well can bring a lot of relief to a client and can provide a bit of clarity on what type of health concern we might be dealing with. Focusing on these three things can also help lay the groundwork for introducing new coping strategies. For example, if I am working with a client who is trying to manage anxiety and is not sleeping well, I do not believe it will be very effective to try to implement coping tools without first addressing the sleep issue.
I do not think there is any easy solution to figuring out a more comprehensive health care system that assesses and treats the whole client. As a Psychologist I can pipe up for clients where I can, but at the end of the day sometimes we have to be our own best advocate. Ask for referrals, do your research, insist on seeing the health practitioners you think you need to in order to heal all parts of you.