Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual initiative hosted by the Mental Health Ireland. This week is dedicated to removing the stigma that surrounds mental health in general and raise awareness about what needs to be done and how you can help.

In our eyes, a person’s mental health is equally as important as their heart health and really can impact their wellbeing. To help raise awareness about the two, in line with this year’s theme about body image, we’re investigating whether there is a connection between our heart health and mental health and what you can do to ensure you’re the happiest and healthiest version of yourself.

Are we Connected?

There are multiple studies that have been conducted that have concluded that there is a distinct connection between having a mental health disorder and an increased risk level for contracting various cardiovascular issues. Research has shown that the biological and chemical factors that trigger mental health issues could be the catalyst for influencing heart disease.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s study discovered:

People who have been diagnosed with a mental health issue are twice as likely to have suffered a stroke or heart disease

People who have previously been diagnosed with a mental health issue and have not developed heart disease are more likely to contract it in the future

Specific psychiatric medicine has been linked to a higher risk of stroke and heart disease

Many people are unaware of the correlations between these two notable topics, but as with many chronic health issues, there is a combination of factors that contribute to both of these. People who are currently diagnosed with a mental health issue are more likely to adopt lifestyle choices that can contribute to the development of heart disease, in the future. Activities such as smoking and drinking feature here.

Also, medication factors in. Various medications that are used to treat mental health issues can contribute to weight gain which can also contribute to the contraction of heart disease.

Mental health conditions can make it difficult to make your voice heard and ask for treatment for any issues. This means that early signs of heart disease can develop in the background and go without treatment.

Treat and Look After Yourself

Going through mental health complications can cause a domino-like effect in the body that can also affect your heart health. When adrenaline is released, it causes your blood pressure and heart rate to rise, temporarily, however, there are a variety of activities you can enjoy that can alleviate the pressure of everyday life:

    1. Yoga - Yoga has been known to increase your muscle tone and overall strength. Not only does it strengthen you whilst you’re winding down, but your cardio and circulatory health will also increase too. It has also been known to lower blood pressure levels and reduce insomnia.
    2. Read a Book - It doesn’t matter whether you pick your favourite fiction book up off the shelf or your hero’s autobiography when you immerse yourself and your mind into a book, psychologists believe the distraction causes the muscles around the heart to relax. Also, according to research, reading for just six minutes can be enough to reduce your stress levels by two thirds.
    3. Walking - A 30-minute walk can reduce your risk of heart disease and the chances of suffering a stroke by 27%. Walking is a simple cardio-exercise that can increase your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol.
    4. Talk to Someone - Talking lets you get everything off your chest that is bothering you and allows you to breathe a little bit easier afterwards. Venting your problems will allow you to re-wire your brain after dealing with the problems and you won’t have to self-medicate yourself away from the problems, anymore.
    5. Have a Laugh - Laughter causes the body to release the feel-good endorphins. Laughter also decreases stress and increases your resistance to various diseases by increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, so instead of catching a cold, catch the giggles instead!
    6. Don’t be Afraid to Speak - If you believe you are developing symptoms of heart disease or feel like you need to speak to someone about your mental health and wellbeing, you seek professional advice from your GP as they will be able to advise you further and recommend the best treatment plan.

    Whilst mental and heart health aren’t brought to the forefront of conversations on a daily basis, Mental Health Awareness week will aim to shed light on one of these issues and in turn helps shed light on the other, too.

    Head on over to our Twitter page, @hayesfirstaid and share what you’ve been doing to help raise awareness for Mental Health Awareness in Ireland and how you look after your mind, body and heart.