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Untreated Mental Illness Can Impact Your Bodies Physical Wellbeing

  • 4 min read

Looking after your mind is just as important as looking after your body. Neglecting your mental health can impact your physical wellbeing and your quality of your life, compounding existing physical health issues and creating new ones, says a community health organisation Rhiza Babuyile.

Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are often regarded as invisible diseases, but experts warn that physical changes to the body may indicate untreated or undetected mental health issues. Psychiatrists and GPs working with Rhiza Babuyile report that they have seen numerous cases of this in patients in their communities and clinics across the country.

“Mental illness is not ‘all in the mind’, rather it is a physical manifestation of neurological and chemical imbalances. There are many ways the body warns you that your brain or central nervous system is in distress and needs your attention,” says Katlego Assis, Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) and Projects Manager at Rhiza Babuyile.

One of the most common signs of acute mental illness is a drastic change in blood pressure or blood sugar levels. This highlights how checking on, and maintaining your mental health is just as critical as keeping up with good physical health practices, they eventually affect one another and are closely interlinked.

Mental illness goes beyond depression and anxiety, it can cause disability

While it seems like more and more people are suffering from depression and anxiety, especially post the pandemic, the issue goes far deeper than these two categories. There is a myriad of common mental disorders, some of which have more severe effects on quality of life than others. A lot of sufferers of these diseases have not been given as much attention as those with less stigma attached to them.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental disorders are the leading cause of disability. Not everyone with a mental illness is disabled, but some illnesses can become so severe, they cause people to become disabled. Mentally ill people have been known to spend one in six years living with disability because of a mental illness. Disability as a result of mental illness can also shorten one’s lifespan, with people suffering from severe mental health conditions dying on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, mostly due to preventable physical diseases.

You’re not alone

People genetically predisposed to mental disorders can be triggered by various environmental factors such as financial stress, substance abuse or traumatic events. The stress, suffering, tragedy and illness experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant anxiety and depression, triggering otherwise healthy people into mental distress and often exacerbating existing mental health conditions. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression and anxiety diagnoses increased by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic.

Pre the pandemic, nearly a billion people were living with a mental disorder, this figure includes 14% of the world’s adolescents. Suicide accounted for more than 1 in 100 deaths and 58% of suicides occurred before age 50. Depression and anxiety went up by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic alone.

Depression and anxiety disorders which have previously mainly been associated with women in South Africa have been receiving attention as affecting a significant part of the male population. Although women are statistically twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, one in eight men suffer from depression and one in five men suffer from an anxiety related disorder. This is according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

Much of the suffering that comes with mental illness can be managed, alleviated and even prevented. Regular health checks, paying attention to your body and getting professional help are important to maintain a healthy body and mind. The mind is part of the body after all, its wellness requires daily attention and self-love too.