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World Mental Health Day provides a timely reminder to tap into mental and physical health

10 October 2020

On World Mental Health Day, leading health organisations are urging people to check in with their mental and physical health and reconnect with their healthcare teams. 

The Equally Well Alliance and the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (ACDPA) are concerned the conditions surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19) are creating the perfect storm for mental and physical ill health. Both groups are encouraging Australians to prioritise their mental and physical wellbeing and take advantage of easing restrictions in Victoria to follow up any outstanding appointments. 

Professor Malcolm Hopwood Chair of the Equally Well Alliance said the link between mental and physical illness is often overlooked and COVID-19 presents additional risks.  

“We know that 80 percent of people with mental illness also have serious physical health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and they are five times more likely to die prematurely from cancer compared to the general population,” he said. 

COVID-19 is creating a new set of uncertainties that further exacerbate risk, due to the effects of social isolation and financial insecurity, as well risk factors like smoking, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diet. 

ACDPA Chair Sharon McGowan added the link between physical and mental ill health goes both ways. 

“Chronic disease can increase risk of mental illness. Many people with chronic conditions like stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer experience anxiety or depression, and these conditions can have a significant social impact,” Ms McGowan said. 

Both groups are supportive of the government’s commitment to telehealth and the increased funding for mental health announced in the October budget, including doubling the number of Medicare-funded psychological services and investment in helplines and mental health services. However, they are concerned that links between mental and physical illness will still be missed.  

Each year, over 10,000 people with mental illness die from chronic physical health conditions – equivalent to 28 people every day. This is more than the number of premature deaths from suicide and road accidents combined. 

Professor Hopwood from the Equally Well Alliance urged health professionals, including mental health teams, to consider the whole patient – both physical and mental health.  

“We already have an epidemic of people with mental illness dying early from preventable chronic physical health conditions. With the impact of COVID-19 and the post COVID-19 context, this is likely to increase unless we take action now,” he said. 

Ms McGowan from ACDPA urged people to seek advice for any concerns via face-to-face or telehealth (video or telephone) consultations. 

“We are worried that people may be putting off their regular medical appointments and not wanting to burden the health system, but it is important to pick up early warning signs to improve treatment options,” she said.  

“Chronic conditions will continue to affect Australians long after the COVID-19 storm has passed, and it is important that Australians are supported to receive the physical and mental care they need.” 

Download factsheet on mental and physical health.

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