eNewsletter - November 2016

Behavioral Health Partners

The important connection between physical and mental health

For people with mental health issues, improving physical health can often benefit their mental states and help alleviate the symptoms with diseases such as depression. By engaging in healthier lifestyles, such as proper diet and exercise, the stress and negative emotions associated with many mental health issues can be treated. 

Numerous studies expound on the benefits of improving physical health to treat mental health. A study in Public Health Reports from C. Barr Taylor of Stanford University and colleagues found exercise does seem to offer benefits in the alleviation of mental health symptoms. 

In particular, the researchers’ review of multiple studies found exercise to be promising in improving the self-concept and intelligence of people with cognitive disabilities. The exercise ranged from light- to high-intensity regimens. Their review also found exercise to alleviate the signs and symptoms of anxiety and to improve cognitive functioning. 

“For both psychiatric and nonclinical populations, physical activity and exercise would seem to offer some benefit,” the researchers said. 

Diet is also a major factor in physical health, and as such, a change in diet can benefit mental health. While the modern diet is often rich with calories, it sometimes lacks in vitamins and nutrients that have been implicated in staving off mental diseases, such as vitamin B12, iron and magnesium. 

In a paper published in The Lancet Psychiatry, Drew Ramsey of Columbia University and colleagues cited several studies that linked diet to mental health, as well as linked the health of the gut to mental health. Ramsey recommends a whole-foods diet rich with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and other beneficial nutrients. 

“Food should be the first line of defense because it’s a foundational treatment,” Ramsey said. “We really need to move away from thinking of things like diet and exercise as ‘complementary’ or ‘alternative.’”

While many mental health problems do not lead to the display of physical symptoms, cases of depression or anxiety can sometimes lead to weight loss, fatigue or malnutrition. Other mental diseases can lead to a loss of impulse control, which can lead to weight gain. Weight gain can then lead to other physical ailments such as Type 2 diabetes. 

Smoking has also been linked with mental health disorders. Healthcare professionals should be aware of these connections, and if they notice them, they should be ready to offer lifestyle changes and treatment plans. 

Engaging patients in exercise plans, as well as setting up diets, can aid in the alleviation of mental health symptoms. Deviating from unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and drinking can also help. While improving one’s lifestyle does not cure mental health issues, improving physical health, combined with medication, therapy and help from professional caregivers, can greatly improve the well-being and health of mental health patients. 


The Relation of Physical Activity and Exercise to Mental Health

Diet May Be As Important To Mental Health As It Is To Physical Health

Can What You Eat Affect Your Mental Health?

The exercise effect

No Physical Health Without Mental Health: Lessons Unlearned?






Disparity in Mental Health Access

Despite the best efforts of many organizations, disparities in access still exist in healthcare. This is particularly noticeable with minorities and the frequency with which they obtain mental health services. 

These disparities can keep minorities from receiving access to treatment for a number of crucial mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. To shrink these disparities, general improvement of mental healthcare will help., However, increased mental health education, awareness, and resources are the key. 

Several studies outline the disparities in mental health care, while also outlining reasons for them. A 2013 study, published in Health Services Research and led by Benjamin Le Cook of Harvard Medical School, found that of 47,903 white, African American, and Latino adults age 18 and over, 40 percent of Whites with a probable need for mental healthcare pursued treatment. However, only 27 percent of Latinos and 24 percent of African American did so. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health said 8.7 percent of adult African American received treatment for mental health concerns in 2007-2008, compared with 16 percent of adult whites. 

“Disparities exist in access to and use of mental health services for ethnic minority individuals,” according to Thomas McGuire of Harvard Medical School and Jeanne Miranda of the University of California at Los Angeles in the Journal of Health Affairs. “Furthermore, during the past decade, efforts to eliminate these disparities have not been successful in primary care or specialty psychiatric services.”

Minorities and ethnic populations are not more or less susceptible to mental health issues. However, the frequency with which they access care, as well as the quality of that care, varies greatly. Research has determined various reasons for this. Larke Huang, director of the Office of Behavioral Health Equity at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said increased poverty, which is disproportionately represented in minorities, leads to poorer care and is more likely to cause mental issues such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Access to care, related to insurance issues, lack of transportation, lack of child care, and time off work, reduces the chances minorities and ethnic populations will use mental health services. Huang also said there is a lack of mental health professionals in public health services, and stigma in these populations can convince people to not seek out care. 

“People who are limited in resources often have a difficult time getting to or keeping appointments,” Huang said. “(We also see) discrimination and racism creating stress responses and traumatic experiences, that can also lead to reduced capacity to cope, to adjust and to seek care when needed.”

These studies also offer several ways to try to correct this, the most important being proper education. Minority populations need to be aware that these services exist, that there is no issue or stigma that should surround their use, and that these services can help tremendously. 

Access also should be increased through expanded insurance coverage. Other systemic issues, such as insurer discrimination or lack of proper spending, need to be addressed. Focus also needs to be placed on these populations by individual institutions. This can be done by encouraging and facilitating use within lower-income communities in nearby locations and communities, as well as offering opportunities to engage community members on the issue. 

Hospitals can also hire ethnically diverse populations and  use mental health screenings and treatments that take into account a patient’s language and cultural background. 

“A healthcare team that considers culture, shows respect and assesses and affirms patient differences will provide patients a comfortable, supportive environment to express their mental health concerns,” according to Kisha Holden of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and colleagues in an article published in the journal, Psychological Services. 


Minority Health and Mental Health Disparities Program

Blacks and Latinos Seek Mental Health Care Less Often

Closing the Gaps: Scaling Up to Reduce Mental Health Disparities in the United States

A New Look at Racial/Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Service Use Among Adults

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mental Health Care: Evidence and Policy Implications

Ethnic Minorities Still Receiving Inferior Mental Health Treatment, Says APA Journal

Health Care Reform: Disparities in Mental Health Status and Mental Health Care

African Americans have limited access to mental and behavioral health care

Cultural Disparities in Mental Health Care: Closing the Gap