Heart health is closely linked to mental health. Research shows that people living with a mental health condition are at greater risk for of having a heart-related event (heart failure, stroke or heart attack). For this reason, medical care must consider both mental and physical health. It can be hard to detect heart problems; they often don’t become obvious until the condition becomes serious. This is why it is important to have regular blood and heart checks.
How are mental health and heart health issues related
The relationship between mental health and heart health goes both ways. That is, poor mental health can lead to heart health issues, and poor heart health can cause problems with your mental health.
Scientific studies show that people experiencing severe mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder and people with anxiety disorders and persistent or intense stress or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Mental ill health can cause changes to the body, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced blood flow to the heart, and heightened hormone cortisol levels. Over time, these changes can lead to the narrowing of the arteries and heart disease. People experiencing depression and anxiety may also have greater difficulty recovering from heart disease and a greater risk of having further heart problems.
Some of the medicines used to treat mental health problems may also increase the risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, one in five people develop depression after a heart event. The pain experienced, fear of death or disability and financial problems associated with the heart event can put people at increased risk of developing depression, anxiety and/or PTSD.
Behaviour and heart health
A number of lifestyle factors also increase the risk of heart disease. For example, people who drink too much alcohol, smoke cigarettes, find it difficult to exercise, have difficulty getting adequate sleep and eat mostly unhealthy foods are at increased risk of developing heart-related health issues.
Caring for your mental and physical health
Behaviour changes that will reduce your risk of developing heart disease include:
- Regular exercise (to help control blood pressure and cholesterol and strengthen bones and muscles)
- Healthy eating habits (eating lots of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables and minimising salty, sugary and fatty foods)
- Quit smoking (this will immediately decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. If you need help to quit, talk to your doctor or call Quitline 137848)
- Minimise alcohol intake (no more than two standard drinks for men and one standard drink for women per day is recommended to stay healthy)
- Manage stress (meditation, yoga, and talking therapy can all help)
- In conjunction with your doctor, control your blood pressure
Where to get help
If you’re 45 years and over, or 30 years and over and you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you can get a free heart health check from your GP. This video explains why this is a good idea and what is involved:
Additional services through your GP and other professionals
- If you have an ongoing (chronic) health problem, you may be eligible for five free sessions with an allied health practitioner (e.g. dietitian, physiotherapist). You can ask your doctor about this, or find out more information from this link
- Speak to other health professionals (psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, nurse) or someone at your local community health centre if you are concerned about any aspect of your health – physical or mental
- The Cardiac Wellbeing Program offers Australia-wide psychological support to people who have had an acute cardiac event and their families.
- If you’ve had a heart attack or heart surgery or have been diagnosed with a heart condition, there are cardiac rehabilitation programs that offer support to help you regain your strength, make long-term lifestyle choices to improve your physical and mental well-being and reduce your risk of having another heart attack. These programs may also connect you with other people who’ve had similar experiences. Visit the Heat Foundation to find a rehab program near you
Further reading from the Heart Foundation
- To find out more about the link between anxiety, depression and heart disease, visit the Heart Foundation
- If you have suffered a heart attack, you might want to use this checklist to keep an eye on your emotional health
- Higher rates of depression have been found in people with coronary heart disease. More information on this, including a patient questionnaire, can be found here
There are many paths to explore if you are looking to improve your heart health. You might like to explore further by visiting the website below to learn more.