Bringing together physical and mental health is vital to support people to be healthy and happy.

Lynne Thomas, lead for our mental health recovery services, explains.  

"Swimming with @prestonparkrc brilliant to have support to enable activities (like swimming) that used to be taken for granted but became impossible once anxiety took control. With earplugs to lessen the echoes and support negotiating the changing room, the lockers, the keys, the showers and the lanes it all just happened and now I can’t really remember why I was so fearful. I will go regularly now #fitness #mindbodyspirit #selfcare #grateful #happy #tenlengths”

The above Instagram post from a client of our Preston Park Recovery Centre clearly shows the impact mental and physical health have on each other. Across our mental health services, we see many examples of the connection between good physical health and good mental health. We also see examples of the reverse; how poor physical health contributes to poor mental health.   

Bringing physical and mental health support together is not a new concept.

In 1948, the World Health Organization stated, “Health is a state of complete mental, social and physical well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Research has also been published, evidencing the benefits of this integrated approach. 

With the importance of looking after our physical health clearly recognised, the question that needs to be asked is why do people with poor mental health still experience stark health inequalities? 

The statistics are startling.

Reduced life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. Three times the likelihood of being a smoker and having high blood pressure. Three and a half times more likely to have no teeth. And, double the risk of obesity and diabetes, often linked to prescribed medication.

Reasons for these statistics are varied. Physical health is often overshadowed. Unhealthy ‘lifestyles’ are often ignored or taken for granted. Symptoms are not believed and signs of emerging illness ignored. Responses to self-harm can be unhelpful. And, at times, the inpatient environment can be an unhealthy environment.

For all these reasons, it’s great that NHS England’s Five Year Forward View includes a focus on ensuring people with mental health challenges’ physical health needs are met. Ways highlighted to support this include: increasing early detection; expanding access to evidence-based physical care assessment and intervention, and calling on healthcare professionals to consider psychological wellbeing when treating physical symptoms of a condition and vice versa.

Locally, work to address the health inequalities people with poor mental health experience is being progressed.

East Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group has commissioned GPs to carry out annual health checks for people with long-term mental health conditions, and have commissioned Southdown’s Community Connectors service to support GPs’ patients following their check.

Once a health check is completed, a referral can be made directly to one of our Community Navigators who can support people to find the help they need. This could be a weight loss class, smoking cessation service, a dentist or an exercise class.

To support this work, we have recently employed Vikki Turpin as our Community Connectors Co-ordinator to work with GPs, our Navigators and to promote the physical health agenda.

We have also been developing our offer of physical health activities and groups in our mental health Wellbeing Centres across East Sussex and Brighton.  

I know for myself, exercise and diet affect my wellbeing.  As such, I try, with varying degrees of success, to eat healthily, run and swim regularly.

For more information on Southdown’s mental health recovery services visit our website here.