Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Why are physical complaints relevant to mental health?

 There is a strong relationship between mental illness and physical complaints. People with mental health problems come with physical complaints for many reasons:

• Worry and tension can make a person tense his muscles for long periods. This makes the muscles tender and painful. A good example of this is the ‘tension’ headache as a result of tensing up neck muscles when worried.

• When a person is anxious or depressed, chemical changes occur in the body. One common change is the release of adrenalin, a chemical that is normally released in the body during exercise or when a person is scared. This causes complaints such as palpitations and chest pain.

• When people are tense, they tend to breathe faster. This produces changes in the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. These changes can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, palpitations, tingling or numbness of the fingers and toes, and a choking or breathless sensation. This is what happens during a panic attack

• Alcohol can produce physical complaints because, in large amounts, it poisons the liver and other organs

• People feel that if they tell a health worker that their main problem is emotional, they may not get help. Thus, they focus on the physical complaint as a way of getting medical attention.

• Many languages describe emotional pain in a physical way. For example, in English, one can say ‘my heart is heavy’ to describe a sad mood. Thus, the physical symptom is simply another way of expressing mental pain (space is provided in the Glossary for you to enter idioms for mental distress in your local language).

• Painful illnesses, such as inflammation of the joints, can make a person feel unhappy and worried. Here, the pain is caused by a physical illness, but it affects the person’s mental health. Feeling depressed can make the pain less bearable.

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