What are the Effects of Mental Illness on Health?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2019
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The effects of mental illness on health are highly variable, depending on the mental illness involved and how well it is managed. Mental and physical health are closely linked, and mentally ill people are more at risk of problems like weight gain or loss, damage to the teeth, and gastrointestinal problems. These problems can be caused by medications, the underlying mental illness, or the inability to properly care for the body as a result of poorly controlled mental illness or bad living conditions, both potential problems for people with mental illness.

Some medications used to manage mental illness can have serious physical side effects and these effects of mental illness on health may not resolve when the medications are discontinued. Some examples include tardive dyskenesia, a movement disorder caused by some psychiatric medications, along with extreme weight gain or loss and other neurological problems. Patients may also develop issues like gastrointestinal problems caused by prolonged medication use.


Sometimes people with mental illness find it difficult to care for themselves. Poorly managed mental illness can make it harder to complete daily tasks and mentally ill people are more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty, making it difficult to get regular health care and stick with a health care regimen. This can result in effects of mental illness on health like poor nutrition, inadequate dental care, and not getting enough exercise. Alcoholism and its attendant physical health effects are more common in people with mental illness, and substance abuse can also be a problem.

The effects of mental illness on health can also include issues like damage to the teeth caused by grinding, either from anxiety or as a side effect of medication. Patients living in a constant state of stress can develop high blood pressure and heart problems, and people who are institutionalized may not get adequate exercise or health care, potentially leading to health problems. Homelessness caused by mental illness can add to physical stress, in addition to making it hard for patients to access health care reliably.

Some mental illnesses include physical expressions of ill health. Patients may self-harm, attempt suicide, or engage in activities like endless pacing or exercise, stressing and damaging the joints. These effects of mental illness on health can sometimes be managed with medications and therapy, and in other cases can only be reduced, but not entirely eliminated. Considering physical health issues when treating and working with mentally ill patients is an important part of providing complete patient care, as a feedback system can develop where poor physical health exacerbates mental illness or vice versa.


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Post 3

@Feryl - I'm sure some homeless people are homeless because of mental illness, but I think more of them are homeless because they are running from something. Many of them have committed crimes and don't want to be found. Once you have been homeless and living that lifestyle for a while then I can see how you would start to have mental issues. It's a stressful life.

Post 2

I sometimes volunteer at the local homeless shelter. This is something that I have been doing for years now. Many of the individuals who I see at the shelter do have some type of mental illness.

When you listen to their stories, they usually tell you about how they were working and how they had a place to live and a car to drive, pretty much like most of us. Then at some point they had a break with reality or some other type of mental illness episode and they couldn't continue to work.

When you see them homeless and on the streets it is hard to imagine them as working professions. This goes to show you how fragile life can be.

Post 1

My first roommate in college had bouts with depression. Before rooming with her, I had not been around anyone who showed obvious signs of depression. The first month we were together and getting to know one another was great. We were very close and did virtually everything together during that first month. Then out of nowhere, or so it seemed to me, she changed into a different person.

At first she started spending more time in the room and she would not go out except to go to classes. Then she reached a point where she would not get out of bed to go to class. This was scary for me because I had no idea what was going


After a couple of weeks of her not gong to class, I called her mother and told her what was happening. She explained to me that there was a history of depression and mental illness in her family, but her daughter had not shown any serious signs until then.

My roommate eventually dropped out of school and returned home. We lost contact soon after that, so I don't know what happened with her after she left campus.

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