Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month. During this month, organizations across the country like Mental Health America (MHA) work to spread the word that “mental health is something everyone should care about.” Physical and mental health are often talked about separately, but they’re actually intricately connected. If our goal is to care about mental health, then we need to care about physical health too.
Effects of Physical Activity on Mental Health
Physical activityis responsible for a large part of the associations between physical and mental health. The mental health benefits of physical activity are well-established, including improved cognitive function, reductions in anxiety and depression, improved sleep, and overall higher quality of life.
It’s clear that physical activity plays a large role in an individual’s mental health. However, even if a patient is staying physically active and makes other healthy lifestyle choices, it’s not a cure-all. Access to healthcare is essential for preventive services, emergency care, treating chronic physical conditions, and more.
The Connection between Physical and Mental Health
Did you know that patients with poor physical health are at a higher risk of developing poor mental health?
Furthermore, according to the Mental Health Foundation, “research shows that people with long-term physical conditions are more than twice as likely to develop mental ill-health.” Long-term physical conditions are those that need to be managed on a continual basis, through treatment or medication, such as diabetes, arthritis, or high blood pressure.
The research on this is clear, but it’s also easy to understand on a personal level. Take a moment to imagine that you have chronic pain, or you have to constantly be worried about what’s happening inside your body. Do you think this could impact your day-to-day happiness and outlook on life?
Now imagine that you’re living with this condition and you want to get help, but for some reason or another, you can’t get the care you need. Sadly, this is the case for many patients and it leads to a vicious cycle of worsening physical and mental health.
Barriers to Healthcare
The reality is that significant barriers exist when it comes to accessing healthcare. These barriers include time, physician shortages, and transportation barriers.
If you’re a working adult or parent, you know firsthand that time is a limited and valuable resource. With many clinics only open during typical working hours, this often requires patients to take off work to get the care they need. However, for many patients, theinability to take time off work presents itself as a major barrier to accessing preventive services and treatment.
Employers are not always required to allow patients to leave work for medical appointments. Even if an individual does leave work, it often represents an opportunity cost of lost wages. When employees have to travel long distances to get to their appointments, their time away from work becomes greater, further exacerbating the issue of lost wages.
A 2021 report by the AAMC found that “demand for physicians will continue to grow faster than supply,” leading to a projected shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. These shortages will impact everyone across the country in some way or another, but there is a disproportionate impact on patients in rural areas and other healthcare deserts.
According to the AHA, approximately 3.5 million patients go without care each year because they cannot access transportation to their providers. For example, a 2019 study by The Journal of Rural Health showed that “Patients living in rural areas traveled on average nearly 3 times as far as those from urban areas…” to reach radiation care.
For patients who have a personal vehicle, rising gas costs can be a significant barrier, especially when they have to travel long distances to reach their appointments. According to the Rural Health Information Hub, “For those without a personal vehicle, traveling long distances can be especially burdensome. People who do not have access to a motor vehicle often have to rely on public transportation services, and destinations are not always located on a public transportation route.”
Furthermore, for patients with mobility challenges, transportation is even more challenging. As explained by the ADA, these barriers make these patients “less likely to get routine preventative medical care than people without disabilities.”
How Telemedicine Can Help
Telemedicine can help make it easier for patients to stay on top of their physical health, no matter their situation. Telemedicine increases access to primary care physicians and specialty providers, especially for patients living in rural areas.
With telemedicine, patients no longer have to travel long distances to see specialists – they can connect virtually from the comfort of their home or local clinic. This ultimately saves patients time, money, and effort, making it easier to access routine care for their physical health conditions.
Physical health care is a form of mental healthcare. As stated in a 2019 article by the Canadian Medical Association, “Just as we understand the heart and lungs to be separate but interdependent organ systems, the field of medicine is increasingly recognizing brain and body as a single system.” When a patient has access to proper healthcare and treatment, it can significantly improve their quality of life. When patients are empowered to take care of their physical health, it also contributes to improved mental health.
Through telemedicine, Beam is committed to improving access to healthcare for patients across the country and the globe. Click here to learn more about our telemedicine services and how we can partner with your healthcare team.