The head and the heart: Mental health and heart disease
Mental health awareness week
This week marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. Its aim is to further encourage an open dialogue and eliminate the stigma often encountered in regards to issues surrounding our mental health and well-being. With 1 in 5 people admitting to having suffered from or currently being treated for a mental illness, it is something that requires urgent attention.
Interestingly, there is increasing, but not firm, evidence to suggest that sufferers of conditions such as depression and anxiety are also more likely to be prone to cardiovascular diseases.
How are heart disease and mental health linked?
The correlation between heart health and mental health has long been regarded by professionals to be strictly behavioural – a person combating low or fluctuating moods may turn to unhealthy foods, alcoholic beverages or cigarettes to relieve some stress – all of which are well-established risk factors in regards to cardiovascular deterioration.
However, research suggests that there is a strong case to be put forward to suggest that coronary heart disease and mental illness may indeed be linked. Data suggests that there are biological as well as neurochemical factors that can trigger mental health concerns and can also influence heart disease.
In other words, a person who is genetically predisposed to mental illness also may be biologically more likely to develop heart disease. Conditions such as schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder and other anxiety conditions can increase stress levels in the human body. This can encourage your body to release ‘fight or flight’ hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which over a long period of time can put a significant increase and strain on your blood pressure and overall heart rate. Another factor is that being diagnosed with heart disease or a cardiovascular disorder can then cause the sufferer to experience low feelings of anxiety or depression.
There is also research that suggests anti-psychotic, antidepressant and mood stabilising drugs contribute to the risk of coronary heart disease due to their influence on the dopamine receptors within the brain.
What can be done?
If you are concerned about a possible link between mental health and heart health, then we recommend you contact your healthcare provider. He or she will be able to advise you on the appropriate care that you may need both physically and mentally. Aside from providing professional help in the form of medication, talking therapies and counselling, your doctor may advise other lifestyle changes such as taking up exercise, adjustments to your diet and even social activities like volunteering or support groups.