Mental and physical health ‘increasingly linked’

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The relationship between mental and physical health conditions is becoming more and more intertwined, according to a psychiatrist at Queensland’s Pine Rivers Private Hospital.

Dr Adetokunbo Alege said he has noticed a rise in patients presenting issues such as depression and anxiety along with chronic problems including Type 2 diabetes, glucose intolerance and raised cholesterol at his practice in Strathpine, north of Brisbane.

Likewise, he said, people with physical ailments are also increasingly likely to have mental health issues.

“While Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are not new problems in our society, I have noticed a distinct correlation between the rise in prevalence of these conditions, and an increase in sufferers presenting with mental health problems, and vice versa.

“Patients suffering from physical conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, are extremely vulnerable to mental health issues due to the relentless and often debilitating nature of the illness.”

Dr Alege, who has worked across a range of mental disorders for 15 years, added that these conditions can also have a detrimental effect on people’s lifestyles.

“They may not be as active or outgoing due to social anxieties, or lack drive and therefore are less likely to participate in exercise and activities,” he said. “It can also affect how they feel about exercise, which can, in turn, be a catalyst for the aforementioned health conditions.”

Dr Alege advised that General Practitioners play a key role in discovering early signs of mental disorders in patients suffering with chronic health conditions by scheduling regular check-ups.

He said people with these dual issues require a more holistic approach when being treated – and that medication is not always the best option.

“We tend to make a call based on the ‘risk-benefit ratio’ – determining what combination of medication, lifestyle modification and psychology is needed. A risk of medication could be the possible side effects and how these will affect the patient’s everyday life. You also have to look at the expectation from the medication and the practicalities involved.”

Dr Alege said patients now have a greater say in their treatment, rather than allowing doctors to make all the decisions.

“It used to be that doctors dictated everything, but I like to work with my patients and empower them. While I am the one giving guidance, it’s still up to them to make the required changes,” he said.

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