Physical Illness and Psychological Health

Physical illness occurs when a person’s body is ridden with one or more diseases that hinder his/her regular functioning. The condition also lowers the ability of the immune system to fight outside dangers to protect the body. Psychological health is the optimal working of an individual, emotionally, psychologically, and socially. Any diversion from this causes psychological distress and may lead to reduced performance.

The relationship between physical and psychological health is complementary to each other. Their interdependence took a considerable time to be discovered but now it is out in the open. They are seen as interlinked and mutually influential (Doan etal., 2022).

There are two basic types of physical illnesses: acute and chronic. Acute illnesses are short-lived and they appear suddenly while chronic illnesses arise slowly and stay for longer. Acute diseases include care for a limited time and are not as life-threatening( some may be life-threatening if not taken care of immediately). They cause stress or anxiety for some time as they hinder certain aspects of life. The case of acute illness appearing continuously may be concerning and lead to higher anxiety or even depression. These could also be a sign of another underlying disease.

Chronic illnesses cause the most distress in a person. It has a chance of influencing and reflecting on our psychological health and mental well-being. The chronic condition has different phases and each affects a person psychologically, either increasing the pressure or sometimes reducing it.

The highly associated mental health issues with chronic diseases are stress, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). Trauma is also a result of certain acute and chronic physical disorders that may later lead to mental illness (Geerse et al.,2006). The diagnosis itself of the disease could come as a shock and lead to stress. The diagnosis makes changes in the lifestyle and the perspective toward life goes through a whirlwind. Many of these chronic conditions lead to mental health disruptions and then they co-exist with psychological illness.

It has been found that diabetes patients have 40% increased symptoms of anxiety as compared to people without the illness. Increased sugar levels increase the risk of depression. Similarly, patients with heart anomalies are three times more likely to have depression during the illness.

Other chronic conditions like respiratory diseases, cancer, and arthritis also cause higher rates of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.

Most often than not, a life-threatening illness keeps a person consciously aware that they could die soon and that would disrupt their plans and life. These thoughts are continuous and as a consequence, may lead to increased loneliness and distancing from people who they love. They also inhibit self-care which further diminishes mental health care.

The medications prescribed with these conditions also contribute to certain mental disorders due to their effects on the body. Beta-blockers given to heart condition patients have been associated with an increased risk of depression. Some medications provided for repressing pain or inducing sleep may even lead to addictions, further leading to negative mental health. For example, certain opioids like morphine can increase the feeling to experience pleasure continuously which may lead to substance abuse issue which also causes anxiety and depression.

In the recent past, the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on a person’s mental health has been extensively studied. Though it still requires more support, certain studies have linked increased symptoms of depression among people experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. The mass hysteria that the pandemic led to could have caused some of these symptoms. But, one study found huge differences in the symptoms between individuals who did not contract the virus and the ones who did within the time frame of the study(Taquet etal.,2021)

The interconnection of both physical and mental well-being is not worth denying anymore. The causes and effects are two-fold for each of the illnesses. Earlier, when humans only approached health from a biomedical perspective, the biological or genetic causes were given the sole importance. The physical condition was only seen as a result of biological discrepancies and the treatment was only found in medicines.

With the emergence of the biopsychosocial model of health, new approaches to health have been uncovered. This model looks at physical illnesses from the perspective of biological effects along with social and psychological aspects. The treatment is also administered with all three aspects into consideration. This approach opened a flurry of investigations and may have contributed to the understanding of the interdependence of physical and psychological health.

The discoveries today have significantly contributed to the understanding and learning of health professionals and laymen alike. As these researches open new doors, and paths are found to further assess the interdependence of physical health and psychological health. References:

1- Doan T., Ha V., Strazdins L., Chateau D. (2022). Healthy Minds Live in Healthy Bodies – Effect of Physical Health

on Mental Health: Evidence from Australian Longitudinal Data. Current Psychology.

2- The Relationship between Mental Health, Mental Illness and Chronic Physical Conditions. Canadian Mental Health Association.,development%20of%20depression%20and%20anxiety.

3- Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Recognizing and Treating Depression. National Institute of Mental Health.

4- Katharina Hüfner et al., 2019. How Acute and Chronic Physical Disease may Influence Mental Health - An Analysis of Neurotransmitter Precursor Amino Acid Levels. National Library of Medicine.

5- Physical Health and Mental Health. Mental Health Foundation.

6- Julius Ohrnbergera, Eleonora Ficherab, Matt Sutton. 2017.The Relationship Between Physical and Mental Health: A Mediation Analysis. Science Direct.


This Blog on 'Physical Illness and Psychological Health' has been contributed by Arpita. Arpita is a 3rd year BA Psychology (Hons) student. She just doesn't find humans interesting, but likes to analyse them and their interactions with each other. She has a heightened inclination towards learning why and how biases and stereotypes occur within us and how they can be managed.

She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP). GIRP is an IJNGP initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.