Understanding the Link Between Physical and Mental Health

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

There are many associations between mental health and physical health. As the World Health Organization has stated, “There is no health without mental health.”

Physical activity and good nutrition have been proven to positively influence how we feel and can help manage the symptoms of numerous mental health conditions. On the other hand, poor physical health, including chronic physical conditions, can directly impact our state of mind.

So how can we better understand the link between the brain and the body? Furthermore, how can we incorporate positive mental health practices into both our day-to-day lives and the treatment of health conditions?

Audience Questions

Dr. Christopher Palmer breaks down the connection between our physical and mental health, shares strategies to support our own and our loved ones’ health journeys, and answers audience questions about how we can feel better, mentally and physically.

  • Can you explain the connection and relationship between the mind and the body?
  • Can you elaborate on the connection between chronic illness and mental health? What are those connections like, and can they feed off one another?
  • Are there any relationships between poor self-care and worse mental health outcomes?
  • When someone is struggling with their mental health and it’s related to a physical issue, do you typically recommend beginning treatment on physical symptoms or mental symptoms first? Or can they be successfully treated at the same time?
  • If your body is having an adverse reaction to medication and you stop taking the medication, does the physical effect go away? For example, do you lose weight you’ve gained, or do you become less manic?
  • Does pain from physical ailments use the same neural pathways as emotional pain?
  • There are many people who experience GI issues as a result of an anxiety disorder. Any suggestions on how to address those issues while in treatment for anxiety?
  • I’ve had problems finding doctors who are able to spend time with me to help me learn about my condition. Am I expecting too much from my providers? How can I approach them about wanting to learn more?
  • When it comes to brain-based physical conditions, such as long-term concussion issues, do you have insight into how depression or anxiety related to these conditions is typically addressed?
  • Because some mental illnesses, like chronic anxiety, send the brain into a fight-or-flight response, does this create sustained increased cortisol levels? Would that affect the rest of the body’s functioning?
  • What are some of the types of things one can do to reverse damage to our metabolism after taking medications, including anti-psychotic medicine, for many years?
  • What evidence is out there that taking care of yourself—for example, a good diet and regular exercise—can result in better mental health outcomes?
  • What can I do to take better care of myself if I’m pressed for time, on the go, and/or caring for others? What can I do to support my health journey when I don’t feel like I have the time to look after myself?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.

Resources

About Dr. Palmer

For over 20 years, Christopher M. Palmer, MD, has focused his clinical work on treatment-resistant cases, and recently he has been pioneering the use of the ketogenic diet in psychiatry, especially treatment-resistant cases of mood and psychotic disorders. He is currently the director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Learn more about Dr. Palmer.

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It’s important to think about ways to manage your mental health. McLean is committed to providing mental health and self-care resources for all who may need them. You and your family may find these strategies from McLean experts helpful to feel mentally balanced in your everyday lives.

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