Coronary illness and mental illness are some of the leading causes of death. However, they could be much more related than previously thought. As it turns out, mind over matter is more than just a saying— it is science.
Mental illness and heart health are intimately connected. Your mind’s health can positively or negatively affect your heart’s health, potentially increasing your risk of everything from stroke to heart attacks. Likewise, if your heart is unhealthy, any strokes you experience could increase your risk for mental illness.
The Link between Heart and Mind
Many researchers have found more evidence to connect one’s mental health and heart health. According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, people with severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorders and schizophrenia, are more likely to suffer from heart illness. The study also notes that PTSD and anxiety also increase the likelihood of heart illness to a lesser degree. This indicates that mental and heart illnesses are very likely linked.
However, the link between mind and heart is still challenging to know. It is clear for most researchers that a fight against stroke or a heart attack can produce additional depression or anxiety, with roughly 65% of those who suffer from heart disease experiencing some form of depression. This is often the result of one having to face their mortality, which can cause patients to either fear a potential heart attack in the future, foster anxiety, or entrench them in their own sadness, leading to depression. Thus, heart disease can often lead to mental illness.
The same is not necessarily valid for mental illness leading to heart disease. While patients who suffer from heart disease often experience mental illness, including anxiety or depression, it is unclear if the mental illness is causing the heart disease. Despite the studies documenting the correlation between mental illness and heart disease, according to Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a medical director at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, research has not been able to firmly link them. Instead, a more accurate statement would be that mental illness can be a risk factor for heart disease and vice versa.
Mental Risk Factors for Heart Disease
While you’re likely familiar with the lifestyle hazards for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and smoking, depression can also be a significant risk factor. Indeed, studies have indicated that depression can be as dangerous a risk factor for heart disease as smoking.
Researchers believe that depression can likely lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. For example, people with depression are more likely to make poor dieting decisions, consume more alcohol and exercise less. These factors can harm your heart and make it more likely for you to suffer from heart attacks or stroke.
Depression increases the risk of developing a heart illness and makes it harder to recover from. This is due to the downward spiral most patients experience as they fear their next attack or develop a sense of depression or isolation. As a result, patients with a heart illness who suffer from depression are at an increased risk of worsening heart attacks and strokes later.
Heart Risk Factors for Mental Illness
The CDC notes that heart illness can also increase the risk of mental illness. According to the CDC’s research, depression, anxiety and PTSD can develop after cardiac issues such as heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. Such development is likely the result of the shock, pain, fear and financial difficulty which often follows dangerous cardiac events.
These risks are not equally distributed either. Instead, certain groups of people have a higher risk of developing mental illness after heart attacks. According to the CDC, women, veterans, racial and ethnic minorities, and couples with a person who has PTSD have a higher risk of developing mental illness.
A Parting Reminder
Ultimately, the link between mental health and heart health is clear. What is unknown is the degree of causation between heart and mind. Poor mental health is a severe risk factor for heart disease because it leads to an unhealthy lifestyle. On the other hand, heart disease can lead to the development of mental illness, which can then prevent successful healing and increase the risks for future attacks.
The health of your heart can prevent heart attacks and strokes. Taking care of your mind can help you maintain a healthy heart by reducing the key risk factors for heart illness.
Luke Argue is a junior in the government department at Patrick Henry College. Aside from writing, Luke enjoys playing volleyball, reading about foreign affairs, and studying world cultures and religions.