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Connection Between Mental and Physical Health

Mental and physical health is fundamentally linked. There are multiple associations between mental health and chronic physical conditions that significantly impact people’s quality of life, demands on health care and other publicly funded services, and generate consequences to society.  The World Health Organization (WHO) defines: health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.   The WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.”1

Nowhere is the relationship between mental and physical health more evident than in the area of chronic conditions. The associations between mental and physical health are:

  1. Poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions.
  2. People with serious mental health conditions are at high risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions.
  3. People with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health.

The social determinants of health impact both chronic physical conditions and mental health. Key aspects of prevention include increasing physical activity, access to nutritious foods, ensuring adequate income and fostering social inclusion and social support. This creates opportunities to enhance protective factors and reduce risk factors related to aspects of mental and physical health.

Understanding the links between mind and body is the first step in developing strategies to reduce the incidence of co-existing conditions and support those already living with mental illnesses and chronic physical conditions.

How CMHA Ontario is addressing this issue

CMHA Ontario has prepared a series of evidence-based reports that address the relationship between chronic physical conditions and mental health; and issues and opportunities for addressing mental health and mental illness within Ontario’s chronic disease prevention and management (CDPM) framework.

CMHA Ontario is a member of the Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (OCDPA). OCDPA has developed key statements on mental health as a risk factor for chronic disease and is raising awareness of the need to address mental health and chronic physical conditions. In 2009, the Alliance held a Think Tank on Mental Health and Chronic Disease Prevention to engage stakeholders in identifying strategies to incorporate a focus on mental health as a component of chronic disease prevention. In 2012, the Alliance held a session on the connection between mental and physical health, titled “Where’s Mental Health in Chronic Disease Prevention?”

CMHA Ontario held a Think Tank on Diabetes and Serious Mental Illness in 2009 with stakeholders from primary care, community mental health and the diabetes sectors, as well as the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and three LHINs, to explore cross-sectoral options to improve the prevention and management of diabetes for people with serious mental illnesses.

Related Resources

Minding Our Bodies is a project of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario, in partnership with others to promote active living and healthy eating for people with serious mental illness in order to reduce their risk of chronic physical conditions. Visit the Minding Our Bodies website for a toolkit of easy-to-use resources to help your organization create sustainable physical activity and healthy eating programs for people experiencing or recovering from serious mental health conditions.

Diabetes and Mental Health Peer Support project is the result of collaboration between CMHA Ontario cwith others to train mental health peer support workers to provide support for the prevention and self-management of diabetes in people living with a serious mental illness. The project website contains guides and resources on preventing Type 2 Diabetes.

Related Documents

The Relationship between Mental Health, Mental Illness and Chronic Physical Conditions. CMHA Ontario, 2008.

What Is the Fit Between Mental Health, Mental Illness and Ontario’s Approach to Chronic Disease Prevention and Management? CMHA Ontario, 2008.

Recommendations for Preventing and Managing Co-Existing Chronic Physical Conditions and Mental Illnesses. CMHA Ontario, 2008.

[1] Promoting mental health : concepts, emerging evidence, practice : summary report / a report from the World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in collaboration with the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the University of Melbourne. (2004).

CMHA Ontario presents findings of mental health and diabetes project at national conference

Training mental health peer support workers so that they can help people living with mental illness understand the risk of developing diabetes and learn prevention and self-management strategies is a success story that can be emulated across the country.