May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the perfect time to explore how our mental health is connected to every aspect of our overall wellness. When speaking about mental health, we include everything that affects someone's emotional, psychological, physiological, and social well-being.
We know of many mental health disorders like trauma, anxiety, and depression. But, researchers are also noticing a strong connection between mental health and heart health that can be key in the study of cardiovascular diseases.
The Link Between Coronary Heart Disease and Mental Illness
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in almost every region of the world. The latest report by the World Health Organization estimates that over 31% of all deaths worldwide can be attributed to cardiovascular disease.
Interestingly, researchers found a connection between mental illness and coronary heart disease. One study found a higher prevalence of mental illness in patients with coronary heart disease. Conversely, people who have a mental illness tend to have an increased risk of heart disease.
People with depressions are three times more likely to struggle with cardiovascular disease than the general population. They also have an 80% increase in the risk of developing new or worsening heart disease. Researchers found that depression was common in patients suffering from a wide range of cardiovascular problems, proving that the relationship between the two illnesses is bidirectional.
While there's still more research needed to understand how mental illness can trigger or exacerbate cardiovascular disease, there are some pointers. The American Heart Association points that depression can accelerate the severity of various coronary risk factors. Most of these causes are lifestyle-related.
Depression and other mental illnesses are linked to poor lifestyle habits such as smoking, poor eating habits, diet higher in saturated fats, and lack of exercise.
These unhealthy behaviors are common among people with mental health illnesses as they seek instant coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations. Unfortunately, this makes them difficult to live a healthy lifestyle, which directly increases their risk for heart disease.
The Rise of Work-Related Stress
Another not-so-secret element affecting heart health is increasing cortisol levels, which increases blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Cortisol, among other stress-related hormones, can increase resting heart rate and lead to higher exertion.
An analysis of work-related stress was associated with a 40% increased risk of incident cardiovascular disease. Another research found that high-perceived stress was associated with a 27% increased risk in incident coronary heart disease and coronary heart disease mortality.
Estimates believe 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, with most Americans categorizing their general stress levels as 5 out of 10. With remote work, lockdowns, and work environment shifts, work-related stress continues to be high among most workers.
However, loneliness and social isolation can also contribute to anxiety and increased coronary heart disease risk. Being mindful of these connections can be crucial in the prevention and control of heart disease cases and mental health disorders like generalized anxiety and depression.
Focusing on Mental Health
Mental illness as a result of a heart problem requires awareness and attention. The same goes for the opposite. It's essential to understand the impact mindful activities like spending time outdoors, eating healthy, exercising, and seeking therapy can affect both mental and heart health. While not everyone understands this connection, it's paramount to focus on practicing a healthy lifestyle focused on heart health and consequently mental health.