Skip to main content

Physical problems 'often mental' - BBC Online

1 reply [Last post]
John's picture
Joined: 09/03/2008

Physical problems 'often mental'

By Michelle Roberts 

Health reporter, BBC News 

The true burden of mental ill health is unrecognised since many "physical" problems, like cancer and obesity, are really "mind" problems, say experts.

Most lung cancers are caused by addiction to smoking, and some obesity by a brain-driven compulsion to eat, says UK psychiatrist Dr Peter Jones.

And to tackle such problems experts need to go back to delving the mind.

He and other leading mental health experts are calling for a trebling of funding to £200m a year for research.

The Research Mental Health initiative, along with public figures including Alistair Campbell, Jo Brand and Stephen Fry, are taking their declaration to Downing Street.

We need to zip together physical and mental health. It is absurd to think that biological processes would stop at the neck ” 

Dr Peter Jones

Mental illness in its "classic" sense, including depression and schizophrenia, affects one in four people in the UK each year but receives just 5% of total health research spending.

Currently, around £74 million a year is spent on researching mental illness.

Yet the economic, social and human cost of mental illness totals £100 billion a year in the UK alone.

And many "physical" health problems involve a strong mental component, they say.


Professor Peter Jones, head of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: "Mental health and illness are seen as separate from physical health and disorders but it's becoming increasingly clear that is wrong.

"Take smoking and lung cancer. People think of it as a physical illness but lung cancer is a behaviour disease due to smoking habit."

Similarly, he said research showed that some cases of obesity could be explained by a hormonal deficiency that acts on the brain circuitry that tells the body when it is full or hungry.

"We need to zip together physical and mental health. It is absurd to think that biological processes would stop at the neck."

People with severe mental illnesses are nearly three times more likely to develop diabetes and other cardiovascular disease risk factors and, on average, die 25-30 years younger.

Research Mental Health says more research investment is desperately needed to match the impact mental health has on people in terms of premature death and disability.

Poor cousin

"The long term aim must be to put mental health research on the same footing as that for physical illness," it says.

Mental illness and cancer both account for about 15% of the total disease burden in the UK, yet cancer gets more than 25% of research investment, while mental health gets 5%.

Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "Our understanding of mental illness is moving at a snail's pace.

"Whilst treatments have improved, we have not yet seen the breakthroughs needed to significantly reduce the massive economic and social damage caused by mental illness."

Meanwhile, experts and advocates in mental and physical health are working together for the first time in a European policy initiative - the Mental and Physical Health Platform - to improve the understanding of the interaction between body and mind in disease.

The chairman of the initiative, John Bowis, said: "It is time to bridge the gap between mental and physical health by taking actions across policy areas and countries."

Story from BBC NEWS:<<


Published: 2009/10/14 01:31:35 GMT<



anonymous (not verified)
anonymous's picture

According to the mental health charity Mind, 17% of Britons suffer from some depression or anxiety, and the World Health Organisation estimates that by 2020 depression will become the second most important cause of disability in the world. So why are so few sufferers willing to tell friends and work colleagues about their problems?

In theory, employers should want to encourage workers to be open about their mental health. Andy Bell, of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, has estimated that the cost of ignoring mental distress at work is £1,000 for every employee in UK business. Time to Change, a coalition of charities campaigning to end mental health discrimination, says it is in the interests of employees too: talking about mental health problems could help them keep their jobs. Yet the stigma remains.

"People find it very difficult to know what they are supposed to do when a friend or colleague says they have a mental health problem," said Sophie Corlett, the charity's director of external relations. "They see it as mysterious, different and requiring a specialised response but actually all people often need is a friendly face, people around them, carrying on making suggestions of things to do and being included. There is also a stigma that people with mental health problems are less capable, less interesting, less intelligent and even dangerous."

Sufferers are often aware of these potential reactions, and may even have held the same views before they became ill. On top of that, depression or anxiety means they "have very low self-esteem, feel that no one wants to hear and that they are unlikely to get better anyway", Corlett added. Equally, the lack of an obvious disability encourages sufferers to believe they can keep their condition secret.