by Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D., Director of Behavioral Health at Healthcare Network
During mental health awareness month in May, it’s important to not neglect or underestimate the power of mental health and wellbeing. In fact, unmanaged anxiety, for example, may impact sleep, activity level and diet, all of which can diminish our immune system and our body’s ability to protect against illness.
Sometimes, chronic headaches, shoulder pain, nausea, chest tightness, or difficulties breathing have less to do with our physical health and more with our mental health.
As a result, staying in touch with one’s emotions, thinking patterns and behavioral habits boosts resilience, can lower anxiety or depression, improve symptom management and lead to better outcomes.
Everyone experiences stress, but we must be mindful and self-aware, recognizing when stress starts to cross over from the healthy, adaptive kind to more unhealthy or maladaptive stress. Generally, that happens when high levels of stress intensify, persist or exceed our ability to effectively cope and function.
Ignoring physical and emotional sensations, particularly after they’ve been around for a while, can negatively affect the connection between one’s physical and mental health and lead to conditions such as anxiety or depression, which in turn can affect physical health leading to obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure, to name a few.
The connection between physical and mental health is a vital one and often underestimated or poorly understood. You do not need to wait to feel depressed or anxious, or have chronic pain, or insomnia, to seek help. It is incredibly reassuring and validating to seek help from a mental health professional, where one could learn that a particular set of symptoms or feelings are quite “normal” under certain circumstances or that it is time to receive help, and more importantly, that help is available.
Healthcare Network’s integrated care model offers mental and behavioral health screening and consultation as part of comprehensive primary care. When additional mental and behavioral treatment is needed, our new Center for Psychology and Wellness at Nichols Community Health Center offers behavioral health services for children, adolescents, adults and seniors in person or via telehealth and in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole without a physician referral.
It’s important to know when to reach out for help. Seeking behavioral health services does not mean something is wrong with you or a problem lies within you, sometimes the problem lies in life and the state of one’s current world. Behavioral health services are for anyone who needs help finding some new perspectives or strategies to cope and are important for overall wellness.
About the Author
Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D. is Director of Behavioral Health at Healthcare Network, which treats all patients, regardless of insurance or job status. For an appointment, call 239-658-3000 or visit healthcareswfl.org.