Is mental illness physical or mental?

Theresa Nguyen, LCSW, Mental Health America

The brain is part of your body just like your legs or your heart.

Mental illnesses are brain-based conditions that affect thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Since we all have brains – having a mental health problem at some point during your life is common.

Unlike other general physical illnesses, mental illnesses are related to problems that start in the brain. The brain is an organ. Just like any other organs in our body, it can experience changes (healing or injury) based on life experiences like stress, trauma, lack of sleep, and nutrition. Generally, when someone has a mental illness, something has changed in such a way that their brain and the way that it works has also changed.

Mental illnesses can affect the rest of your body. Because of changes in physical activity sleep or other factors still being researched, people with mental illness are more likely to be at risk for other physical illnesses, like diabetes or pain. Ultimately it is important to remember that it’s not one or other, physical or mental, but that your whole body is interconnected. Therefore, taking a whole-body approach to getting healthier is so important. People who pay attention to sleep, what they eat, or increasing exercise along with tackling negative moods and thoughts can reach greater improvements in their quality of life and their symptoms. 

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