COLUMN: ‘Mental and physical health matters linked’

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Westfield Health chief executive officer Jill Davies explores the relationship between mental and physical health.

Mind and body are often treated independently, and this has generally been the case in the NHS with physical and mental care largely disconnected.

But there is clear evidence to suggest that physical and mental health conditions can co-exist, while one problem can often lead to the other.

Poor mental health has been associated with an increased risk of serious diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as higher levels of obesity (Mental Health Foundation).

Depression has been linked with a 67 per cent increased risk of death from heart disease and 50 per cent increased risk of death from cancer.

In fact, 45 per cent of people with a mental health problem also have a long term physical condition (The King’s Fund).

It’s perhaps easier to see how mental health can affect physical health, but the opposite is also true.

Rates of depression are double in people living with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems for example. While 30% of those with a long term physical health condition also have a mental health problem.

Of course, if you have a serious physical illness, it’s more likely that you’ll be affected psychologically. While someone with work related stress could find their symptoms manifest themselves physically in ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, headaches and muscular pains.

Almost five million people in the UK live with both physical and mental health disorders (Employee Benefits). For employers, it’s worth bearing this in mind when managing staff sickness absence.

Absence is likely to be greater if an employee has both conditions, but unfortunately, due to the perceived stigma around mental health, employees may not want to disclose any psychiatric problems to their employer.

But employers should always consider that there may be an additional mental disorder if a member of staff is on long term sick. And the longer it lasts, the more likely that will be.

But there are ways you can help your staff.

An employee assistance programme (EAP) is a worthwhile investment because it provides access to counselling services, enabling staff to speak to someone in confidence about their physical and mental health issues.

Many of our corporate health plans include an EAP, which also provides face to face counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT typically treats anxiety and depression, but can also be helpful for managing physical disorders such as IBS and chronic fatigue.

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