The link between physical and mental health revealed The link between physical and mental health revealed

The link between physical and mental health revealed
17 Oct 2017

Recent research published by UK cancer support charity Macmillan found that just under two thirds of people recently diagnosed with the disease in England had suffered additional physical and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression while waiting for their treatment to start.

Another report that was published by a coalition of charities in 2012 also revealed that “people with long-term conditions are twice to three times as likely to experience depression”. Some 68% of people with arthritis and 41% with diabetes suffer from depression and it is between two or three times more common among individuals with a range of cardiovascular diseases too.

But it also seems that people with mental health problems such as depression tend to have poorer physical health than the rest of the population, with the number of long-term conditions experienced by this group being high. Therefore, the evidence appears to suggest that physical and mental health are interrelated and, in order to effectively manage illness, both aspects need to be looked at in a coordinated fashion.

The mental health challenge

While treatment by the UK’s National Health Service for serious health conditions such as cancer, heart conditions and strokes is excellent, mental health resources are under severe pressure due to years of underinvestment. This means that people receive the help they need to deal with physical illness, but the emotional aspects are very often left unaddressed and can lead to long-term problems.

As a result, even though individuals may ostensibly recover physically from their condition, they can end up being debilitated by mental health issues. For instance, they may well require support in coming to terms with an illness that has been life-changing, in dealing with a perceived loss of dignity and in managing constant pain.

Other non-medical issues can likewise feel overwhelming for some during times of physical ill-health. These include workplace change, financial pressures, loss of confidence and fatigue. In fact, our recent research showed that cancer patients can face up to as many as 62 different worries and concerns.

For example, the prospect of returning to work can feel daunting for an employee who has been absent for a long period. They may need support in everything from preparing for a discussion with their employer about a phased return or flexible working to developing coping strategies at work and managing fatigue.

If these matters are not addressed, a return to work may end up being unsuccessful, leading to further episodes of absence and ill health, particularly as a result of stress and depression. Therefore, it is vital for employers to provide support in order to help personnel deal with both their physical and mental health issues in an holistic fashion.

Changing attitudes

Attitudes towards mental health are changing slowly, but the recent publicity from notable figures such as Prince Harry and Rio Ferdinand can only help in raising awareness and reducing stigma. Nonetheless, action does need to be taken to deal with this growing problem.

While health and wellness issues are moving up the corporate agenda, only 45% of respondents to a recent ‘Employee Wellbeing Research’ study said they currently had a wellness strategy in place - although nearly seven out of 10 of those that have not introduced one expected to do so in future.

Which is just as well because demand for this kind of approach is only set to increase following the removal of the default retirement age, which will see many more people working for longer. Advances in medical science also mean that more of them will suffer long-term health conditions.

As a result, employers have an important role to play in helping to safeguard their employees’ health by promoting workplace wellness via programmes that encourage them to boost their activity levels, improve their nutrition and enhance their mental wellbeing.

What employers can do

A lot of employers have already put services in place to support staff should they become ill. For example, they provide private medical and critical illness insurance, group income protection plans and employee assistance programmes.

But despite these offerings, they are frequently surprised when personnel still struggle to return to work after a serious health event. The problem is that emotional support is all too often missing from the package, even though it can hold back recovery. This is because falling ill physically can expose mental fragility among even the apparently toughest of employees.

Finding a way to support staff through what can be a difficult journey back to full health, or a new normal, will be highly valued and also has the effect of engendering positive feelings towards their employer too. Providing an independent, confidential service that offers practical advice, emotional support and a forum in which workers can discuss their worries and concerns while receiving physical treatment can prove invaluable in helping them get through their illness and back on the road to physical and mental recovery as quickly as possible.

 

Christine Husbands has been managing director of RedArc Nurses, a service that provides personal nurse advisers for people experiencing illness, disability, trauma or bereavement, since 2010. She spent the initial part of her career in financial roles and has held several board-level positions in financial services organisations.

Recent research published by UK cancer support charity Macmillan found that just under two thirds of people recently diagnosed with the disease in England had suffered additional physical and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression while waiting for their treatment to start.

Another report that was published by a coalition of charities in 2012 also revealed that “people with long-term conditions are twice to three times as likely to experience depression”. Some 68% of people with arthritis and 41% with diabetes suffer from depression and it is between two or three times more common among individuals with a range of cardiovascular diseases too.

But it also seems that people with mental health problems such as depression tend to have poorer physical health than the rest of the population, with the number of long-term conditions experienced by this group being high. Therefore, the evidence appears to suggest that physical and mental health are interrelated and, in order to effectively manage illness, both aspects need to be looked at in a coordinated fashion.

The mental health challenge

While treatment by the UK’s National Health Service for serious health conditions such as cancer, heart conditions and strokes is excellent, mental health resources are under severe pressure due to years of underinvestment. This means that people receive the help they need to deal with physical illness, but the emotional aspects are very often left unaddressed and can lead to long-term problems.

As a result, even though individuals may ostensibly recover physically from their condition, they can end up being debilitated by mental health issues. For instance, they may well require support in coming to terms with an illness that has been life-changing, in dealing with a perceived loss of dignity and in managing constant pain.

Other non-medical issues can likewise feel overwhelming for some during times of physical ill-health. These include workplace change, financial pressures, loss of confidence and fatigue. In fact, our recent research showed that cancer patients can face up to as many as 62 different worries and concerns.

For example, the prospect of returning to work can feel daunting for an employee who has been absent for a long period. They may need support in everything from preparing for a discussion with their employer about a phased return or flexible working to developing coping strategies at work and managing fatigue.

If these matters are not addressed, a return to work may end up being unsuccessful, leading to further episodes of absence and ill health, particularly as a result of stress and depression. Therefore, it is vital for employers to provide support in order to help personnel deal with both their physical and mental health issues in an holistic fashion.

Changing attitudes

Attitudes towards mental health are changing slowly, but the recent publicity from notable figures such as Prince Harry and Rio Ferdinand can only help in raising awareness and reducing stigma. Nonetheless, action does need to be taken to deal with this growing problem.

While health and wellness issues are moving up the corporate agenda, only 45% of respondents to a recent ‘Employee Wellbeing Research’ study said they currently had a wellness strategy in place - although nearly seven out of 10 of those that have not introduced one expected to do so in future.

Which is just as well because demand for this kind of approach is only set to increase following the removal of the default retirement age, which will see many more people working for longer. Advances in medical science also mean that more of them will suffer long-term health conditions.

As a result, employers have an important role to play in helping to safeguard their employees’ health by promoting workplace wellness via programmes that encourage them to boost their activity levels, improve their nutrition and enhance their mental wellbeing.

What employers can do

A lot of employers have already put services in place to support staff should they become ill. For example, they provide private medical and critical illness insurance, group income protection plans and employee assistance programmes.

But despite these offerings, they are frequently surprised when personnel still struggle to return to work after a serious health event. The problem is that emotional support is all too often missing from the package, even though it can hold back recovery. This is because falling ill physically can expose mental fragility among even the apparently toughest of employees.

Finding a way to support staff through what can be a difficult journey back to full health, or a new normal, will be highly valued and also has the effect of engendering positive feelings towards their employer too. Providing an independent, confidential service that offers practical advice, emotional support and a forum in which workers can discuss their worries and concerns while receiving physical treatment can prove invaluable in helping them get through their illness and back on the road to physical and mental recovery as quickly as possible.

 

Christine Husbands has been managing director of RedArc Nurses, a service that provides personal nurse advisers for people experiencing illness, disability, trauma or bereavement, since 2010. She spent the initial part of her career in financial roles and has held several board-level positions in financial services organisations.