Bridging the gap between mental and physical health

Stop. Close your eyes. Now, try and visualise what does ‘Health’ look like? What do you see? By Nicola Dalrymple for The Blue Tree Clinic.

Health is not something concrete, or something we can define easily with assurance. The World Health Organisation (1948) defined ‘Health’ as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Health is more than just the physical. It is not something tangible, something we can observe from the outside. Health is complex and complete.

Health psychology, a relatively recent field, uses a model to help to understand overall health (Taylor, 2015).The Biopsychosocial model’s fundamental assumption is that health and illness are a result of the interplay of biological, psychological and social factors (Taylor, 2015). Let’s unravel this model with the everyday example of a common cold. The ‘bio’ factors could be that your body has been invaded by bacteria, or a virus. The ‘psycho’ factors could be the fact that you are burdened with overwhelming stress. The ‘social’ factors may be that you just lost your job and now find yourself unemployed (Ogden, 2000). Now we can see how these elements truly begin to interplay. What came first? What caused what? We cannot look at our health from one perspective, these elements are intrinsically linked. Yet most of us treat the physical, the biological invasion, and ignore the ‘psycho’ and the ‘social’.

The power of the mind

Mental disorders

The World Health Organisation asserted that there can be “no health without mental health” (Prince et al., 2007). Depression is a common mental disorder which impacts on mood or feelings of the affected person ( WHO, 2017). The total number of people living with depression in the world is 322 million. Three hundred and twenty two million. Furthermore, the total estimated number of people living with depression increased by 18.4% between 2005 and 2015. These figures offer a glimpse into the significance of mental disorders to global health and how this significance is only growing stronger. Bridging the gap between mental and physical health involves understanding how disorders such as depression impact on mental AND physical health. Depression predicts the onset and progression of disability and disability is an important risk factor for depression (Prince et al., 2007).

Treating Illness

Health behaviours can have negative effects, such as, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can damage the functioning of the liver. However, there is a silver lining. Health behaviours can be changed. Changes in behaviour can undeniably improve health outcomes (Leventhal, Weinman, Leventhal, & Phillips, 2008).If you feel it is time to change behaviours that you believe are having a negative effect on your health and life, seek help. Time spent with a mental health professional is always time well spent. However severe, or insignificant the problem feels to you, help is always valuable.

Preventing illness and optimising help

How can we live healthy, happy and productive lives? (Johnson & Acabchuk, 2018).While this is what we strive for, nowadays with the immensity of media, information on health can seem overwhelming and leave us at a loss of even where to begin. What do we believe? Who can we trust? There is no single recipe for health. However, health psychology research can offer guidelines for health such as:

“ Maintain a sense of purpose, positive social relationships and healthy habits, including a nutritious diet, sufficient exercise and sleep; moderation and optimism are best. Not only does health psychology offer a recipe for successful living, but successful aging, as well. The caveat is that many factors can interfere with these lessons, and unless social networks are supportive, health will be compromised. Although many factors may remain out of an individual’s control behaviour change strategies can empower individuals and populations to improve health, longevity and quality of life” (Johnson & Acabchuk, 2018).

It is clear to see that health is an intricate mosaic of factors. Do you feel that health is out of your grasp? It may well feel like this but do not neglect your mental health. Embrace it like a friend. Nurture it, support it, and it will do the same back to you. Seek help where help is needed, and remember that change is always within your reach.

Now, stop again. Close your eyes. And ask yourself, what does ‘Health’ feel like?

Because at the end of the day, this is just as, if not more important than what it looks like.


Johnson, B. T., & Acabchuk, R. L. (2018). What are the keys to a longer, happier life?

Answers from five decades of health psychology research. Social Science & Medicine, 196, 218-226. doi:

Leventhal, H., Weinman, J., Leventhal, E. A., & Phillips, L. A. (2008). Health psychology:

The search for pathways between behavior and health. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 477-505. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093643

Ogden, J. (2000). Health psychology : a textbook (2nd ed.). Buckingham ; Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Prince, M., Patel, V., Saxena, S., Maj, M., Maselko, J., Phillips, M. R., & Rahman, A. (2007).

No health without mental health. The Lancet, 370(9590), 859-877. doi:

Taylor, S. E. (2015). Health psychology (Ninth edition. ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.