Let’s Talk About Prevention – Let’s Promote Mental Wellness

Today is Bell Canada’s ‘Let’s Talk Day’ – a day to encourage conversations about mental health in Canada. The Vancouver Sun editorial yesterday also dealt with the role we all play in reducing the stigma around mental illness. And it’s about time that we started paying attention to this issue – given that mental illness is the No.1 cause of disability in Canada.

Here at BCAHL, we are always interested in the prevention angle. And last week, as our members came together to discuss some of the new evidence in health promotion – we included a section on mental wellness.

Here are some of the issues that we considered…

There is a dynamic inter-relationship between chronic disease and the continuum of mental health (from illness to wellness). Both good physical and mental health are enhanced by healthy lifestyle behaviours and are protective against ill health (e.g.: good physical health reduces risk of poor mental health and vice-versa). Chronic diseases and mental wellness are also both affected by a complex interplay between biological factors and the social determinants of health.

The National Centre for Disease Control and Health Promotion (CDC) in recognition of the relationship between mental health and chronic disease has developed a report outlining their priorities and strategies for integrating mental health promotion and mental illness prevention with chronic disease prevention. In the report, Public Health Action Plan to Integrate Mental Health Promotion and Mental Illness Prevention with Chronic Disease Prevention, 2011 – 2015, the CDC describes their action plan as “a challenging but essential task in protecting the health of Americans.”

The CDC discusses the bi-directional relationship between mental illness, mental health and chronic diseases – describing both positive and negative areas of alignment. “[Mental illness] and chronic disease are frequently associated; the evidence, course, and outcomes of each are affected by the presence of the others. In addition, there is extensive evidence connecting [mental illness] to chronic disease, such as cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity, asthma, arthritis, epilepsy and cancer.” Mental wellness can also decline with chronic disease, for example depression can be associated with the social isolation experienced by those who are chronically ill.

Health Status Current Depression (%) Lifetime Diagnosis of Depression (%) Lifetime Diagnosis of Anxiety (%)
Asthma 16.5 27.1 20.2
No asthma 7.6 14.0 10.0
CVD 16.8 23.7 17.9
No CVD 7.9 14.9 10.6
Diabetes 14.5 22.4 15.3
No Diabetes 8.2 15.2 11.0

(CDC, 2007)

On the positive side of the equation, mental wellness can have a protective function and has been shown to increase longevity. “For example, positive emotions and evaluations of life are associated with decreased risk for disease, illness and injury; better immune functioning; better coping and quicker recovery; and increase longevity.” In an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health, puts it succinctly, “there can be no health, without mental health.”

If you are looking for resources there are some great ones through the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information at their Here to Help website and Bounce Back is an evidence-based program designed to help adults experiencing symptoms of mild to moderate depression, low mood, or stress, with or without anxiety.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy & Communications
February 2012

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