Mental Health and Physical Health are not just correlated but fundamentally linked to each other. For this reason, healthcare professionals really do need to consider psychological factors when treating physical conditions and also need to consider physical ailments when treating mental health concerns. It is encouraging that we live in a time where it is becoming less taboo to discuss mental health. Of course there is always room for improvement and I am not minimizing the problems that exist because there is still a stigma associated with mental health. What is promising is that research is linking the two together and mental health is gaining a louder voice to raise awareness about invisible ailments that can be crippling to those who suffer with them day to day. We no longer roll our eyes when people talk about treating the whole person or taking a holistic approach to treatment. This mindset of taking care of a whole person is not new; but it is new that more professionals are willing to acknowledge that their specific approach may not be the be all end all for many patients.
I admit that I did not fully understand mental health until recently. Not that I didn’t believe it existed, nor that I couldn’t have empathy for those living with mental health concerns, but I had no idea how a sober, seemingly healthy, educated person, could actually feel as if they have lost all control of their mind. That may sound harsh but I believe there are certain aspects of life that are impossible to put into words to make people truly understand the feelings. Pregnancy- nobody could have prepared me for all the different physical, emotional, and mental symptoms that came along with it. Labour and delivery- nobody can quite understand that experience without actually experiencing it. Parenting- same idea. It is a whole new scary world that is both the most amazing, wonderful, overwhelmingly exciting time and the most terrifying, lonely, challenging time you have ever experienced. On top of all of these new and seemingly indescribable aspects to your life, what is the most impossible thing to make people understand is post partum axiety.
I didn’t know what it was. I assumed two different things depending on the type of day I was having. Either I felt that I was clinically insane and should not be allowed to have children because Mothers are supposed to be superwomen right? Or I felt that all of this must be normal and every mother has these feelings but just don’t talk about it because they feel as I do some days that if anyone knew the kinds of thoughts and feelings I had they would take my children away. Well I was wrong all around. It wasn’t until after my second child that I actually realized what was happening to me. I realized that no, I wasn’t insane. I was a great mother- I honestly felt that. But we are NOT superhuman, just human. And no, this wasn’t “normal”, meaning that not every mother felt this way. I had post partum anxiety. It is hormonal. I could not just SNAP out of it. I could not listen to reason or logic or talk myself down when I was having my own version of an anxiety attack. I could be fully aware what was happening. I could even tell myself that there was no reason to feel this way, and really truly know that this was a fact, BUT there was a virus in my brain (which is how I started to look at it), and it would not allow my own thoughts and feelings to overpower the thoughts and feelings it wanted me to experience.
Dealing with post partum anxiety also made me further recognize the link between mental and physical health. During this time in my life, I had gastrointestinal problems, I had headaches, I had joint and muscle aches, I had sleep problems, I gained weight, I would get muscle spasms, and nerve pain. All of these issues were connected. I could go through and draw a flow chart of one affecting the other and the other and detail correlation and cause and effect but that is irrelevant. No matter what came first, what condition at this time was the underlying problem, the only way I believe we should be treating our patients is by making sure all aspects of their being are being taken care of. When you feel better physically, it can bring up your mood. When you feel better mentally and emotionally it can give you the energy to take care of your body through physical activity and nutrition. If you get rid of the tired and sluggish feelings that often accompany both mental and physical ailments, you can, with a clear and rested mind, focus on things that are going to take care of the rest.
This may sound as though I am oversimplifying serious medical ailments and diseases. Not my intent. What I am reflecting on is the healthcare community and how I feel we could all do a better job by looking at a more global picture of health when dealing with patients rather than looking strictly at the problem they came in with. For example, if a patient is having trouble sleeping, we would want to find out if there is something that is going on that may be associated with the sleep issue. Or if a person is having a lot of neck pain, instead of just addressing the soft tissue and joints, maybe they have other factors of their life that contribute. At the same time, sometimes shoulder pain is just that- shoulder pain due to an injury or postural dysfunction. Sometimes low back pain is from lifting a heavy object with poor biomechanics, or sometimes it could be due to a recent weight gain and maybe that is correlated with a digestive issue or a mental health issue or eating disorder.
We all have our own specialties and we will continue to treat the patients concerns that they come to us for based on our specialties. But we should also be equipped with an arsenal of awesome practitioners that may be able to help this person deal with their whole person. Mental health awareness is something that I hope is of utmost importance to all manual practitioners and should never be a topic that we are afraid to discuss. Post partum anxiety initially made me feel alone and isolated. Once I started talking about it I felt a sense of belonging to an elite group of kick ass mothers who managed to run their household and get shit done all the while battling their own demons and just trying to keep it together.
Amanda Cooke, RMT