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Modern Myth – Mental Unwellness as the Cause of Physical Unwellness

Posted on: May 27, 2012

Chronic Disease
Chronic Disease (Photo credit: tamahaji)

It seems to be many people’s belief that mental wellness plays big role in our physical health, even functions as a cause of many physical illnesses. I doubt it. I do believe that our mental wellness play big role in the overall quality of our lives, but not necessarily (a big role) the physical part of it.

Studies show that many people who have mental problems such as depression or anxiety also have physical problems. This result seems to be very convincing about how mental wellness affect physical condition, but for me, it doesn’t. I agree it does show the connection – our mental and physical parts of lives closely connect to each others, but, I do not see it shows mental condition IS THE CAUSE and physical illness IS THE CONSEQUENCE. For me, a reversed procedure is much more convincing – that very often mental unwellness is the consequence of our bad physical condition.

By my limited knowledge, the reasons that many people believe mental unwellenss is a cause of our physical health are: 1, modern psychology brought the importance of mental condition to our concern (which is good); 2, many studies show the connections between mental and physical health; 3, the “faith” to modern medicine (in other words, when doctors cannot diagnose a self-claimed physical illness, they blame to patients’ mental conditions). But for me, none of these reasons show precisely that mental illness is the CAUSE of our physical illness – modern psychology just stressed the importance of our mental health, it does not necessarily make it as the cause of everything; the connection between mental and physical condition does not prove mental condition is the cause of latter (as I pointed out above), and doctors’ failure on diagnosing physical diseases also cannot be a proof of patients’ mental problems (rather, it is a proof of the ignorance of many so call “experts:). But why people still easily believe on our mental power? I am not entirely sure, and that’s why I call it “modern myth”.

One of examples of how people hold such belief is how doctors treat patients with unknown chronic illnesses. Whenever they failed diagnose some diseases by their knowledge and expensive equipment – which they (doctors and many people) believe as “omnipotent” on humans’ physical function, they would confidently ask patients: “are you in depression?” And in most case, these patients are unfortunately in depression, at lease when they are very ill. But important fact is, their depression usually is caused by their physical condition, not the another way around:
“we should not confuse the fact that the vast majority of fatigue patients are depressed BECAUSE OF CHRONIC ILLNESS, not chronic ill because of they are depressed. this is a very important distinction and one that most doctors fail to draw… to treat depression as causing the whole illness is wrong” (i would add “is not only wrong but dangerous”. —Edward Conley, author of “america exhausted”

Of course, Conley was addressing those patients with physical chronic illness only. He did not say that all depressions are caused by chronic physical illness. I agree that there are also plenty of depressions are caused by mental issues, not physical ones. All I am trying to express here is, while our mental condition does affect our physical condition to some degree, it is not “scientific” nor “reasonable” to stretch this “some degree” to an exaggerated extent, like many people believe. I personally believe, that compare with our physical condition, mental condition is “secondary” in our overall life quality. This “belief” is based on a simple fact: our physical condition IS THE FOUNDATION of our whole life being. For those who believe our spiritual condition is more important, I would suggest that it is because sometime, or some of us, our physical condition allow us to be “spiritual”, and we probably just take it for granted.

Again, I do agree that mental wellness is important to the overall quality of our lives (because it does affect our happiness tremendously), but not as crucial to our physical body function. Just imagining a person who is chronically tortured by physical pain, can he/she by so call “positive”? He/she might be tough enough to hold hope, certainly cannot be happy and cheerful all the time. On the contrary, I have seen plenty of people who have sever depression but still in decent (some are in excellent) physical health. For me, this is enough to show the dominance of our physical condition to our life existence.

And we all know, if our physical body died, we don’t even have so call mental health exist, unless, of course, if you believe we have soul, which continues to act “positively” in heaven.

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6 Responses to "Modern Myth – Mental Unwellness as the Cause of Physical Unwellness"

I think you make a good point, though I'm not willing to say that mental illness cannot be the cause of physical illness. The two are just to closely tied. In my mind, mental illness has its basis in physiology. Also there are times when a person's condition (anxiety) can cause physical problems (ulcers). Still, I understand your reasoning.

thanks Janene! I should not say the mental illness cannot be the cause of physical illness at all, just not as much as people's belief.

yunyi, as I said on the forum, I absolutely agree with your premise. I think there is a physical cause behind all physical illness. Take ulcers, for example, which Janene mentions above. For over a hundred years, physicians and patients alike commonly assumed the cause was stress. Now it's pretty well acknowledged that it's caused by a bacteria. And, ironically, the treatment which was commonly prescribed in the past (drinking milk)is now recognized as one that actually exacerbates the condition. You are so right to trust your own instincts and experience.

thanks np!
in my post i said it's a “myth”, but actually i have my thought in my mind – i think we humans have a strong disposition of exaggerating our mental power, while it is not so powerful after all.

I too, cannot subscribe to the notion that mental conditions produce physical ones…or vice versa. The notion that diseases are somehow divine retribution for thoughts and actions or somehow makes even less sense. My best,

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