Links between Mental and Physical Health Conditions
In the past few decades, much insight has been gained regarding how mental and physical diseases interact with one another. It is hard to dispute, nowadays, that every chronic physical condition affects our mental state. It affects our mood, the perception of our own limitations, our role within our family and community, and it affects how others treat and interrelate with us. These mental states that interact with physical conditions are also chronic. They fluctuate over time, increasing or decreasing in strength and relevance, and sometimes they even become more detrimental to our day to day activities and experience than the physical conditions that accompany them.
Specifically, studies show strong links between common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and a myriad of chronic conditions, for example type II diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Not only do mental disorders contribute to poorer outcomes in physical conditions, but they are risk factors for developing these conditions as well. For instance, depression has recently been classified as an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease by the American Heart Association, in line with smoking, obesity, and hypertension.
Bridging the Gap between Mental and Physical Health
Given the increased disability that accompanies the comorbidity between mental and physical problems, it is fair to assume that without treating one you cannot fully heal another, and often health services cannot provide for both. The use of technology to bridge this gap to mental health in patients with chronic physical conditions is thus now being given much-needed attention. Technology can effectively remove logistical, cultural, and financial barriers and create ways to build this bridge that previously were not possible. SilverCloud Health is contributing to this work via online programs that are specifically designed to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress in patients suffering from long-term physical conditions. These internet-delivered cognitive-behavioural therapy (iCBT) programs are built on content derived from cognitive-behavioural techniques, which for these patients can not only improve their mental health, but also the self-management of their chronic disease.
The consequences of this are far-reaching: more patients with a physical condition will be able to access and address their mental and emotional health, and the burden on primary care and secondary care services will decrease by the provision of this extra level of support.
Collaborative care is key in patients with long-term conditions. The online support provided by these programs can complement the, at times, small window of time that health care practitioners have with these patients at each appointment. The programs are available 24/7 and thus patients can refer to them whenever they want and fit them around their activities and schedule. Additionally, the importance patients with physical and mental problems give to different symptoms and issues can vary therefore the programs are built in a way where patients can navigate the content at their leisure and focus on the activities and content that matters most to them.
Currently, SilverCloud Health offers programs for patients with diabetes, CHD, COPD, and chronic pain – and more are being developed. These programs aim to ease the burden placed on health care providers and services by tackling the issue of mental and physical health together. This is turn will benefit patient’s lives, ensuring that living with the comorbidity of chronic physical disease and associated mental and emotional stress no longer constitutes a pathway to disability, but rather one to overcoming challenges and renewed hope for the future.
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