Life with MS

A Holistic View of Mental and Physical Health

Holistic - /hōˈlistik/ - adjective - characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, ratherthan just the symptoms of a disease.
Today, more and more, people are recognizingthis important truth: mental illness is physical.
To demonstrate this, let’s compare an illness categorized as “physical” to one categorized as “mental.” In Type 2 diabetes, your body does not handle a hormone called insulin properly, and your pancreas eventually cannot produce enough insulin to regulate your blood glucose. In clinical depression, your body does not handle a neurotransmitter called serotoninproperly, and your brain eventually cannotproduce enough to regulate your mood. Bothconditions result from a chemical imbalancein your physical body. Why, then, is oneconsidered an illness and the other oftenconsidered a weakness?
Recognizing mental illness as physical has important ramifications. When we acknowledge that mental illness has physical roots, we eliminate the idea that mental illness issomething you can will away. Would you expectsomeone to will away diabetes? Or would youexpect them to combine medicine andlifestyle changes to treat their condition?
When we acknowledge the physical aspect, we destigmatize the use of medication to treatmental illnesses. For example, people do notlook down on a person diagnosed with diabetes for requiring insulin, or treat them as if using the medication is somehow cheating. When we acknowledge the physical aspect of depression or other mental illnesses, we do away with the idea that mental health medications are “happy pills” that artificially alter your mood like illicit drugs do, when in fact they are medications that treat a chemical imbalance in
one of your body’s organs – the brain – allowing you to regulate your moods and thinking appropriately.
This is not to say that all mental illness results from physical problems or requires medication.Just as unhealthy physical patterns (such as a poor diet or lack of exercise) can lead toproblems that can be addressed with lifestyle improvements, unhealthy mental patterns can lead to problems that can be addressedthrough changes in our inner life (our thinkingand self-talk). However, more often than not,there are physical components involved intreating mental illness. If not medication,treatment may involve exercise, relaxation,sleep, or diet changes.
Similarly, we need to adjust our view of physical illnesses to recognize the mentalcomponent. For example, emotional stresscontributes to physical inflammation and canaffect the state of the immune system. So clearly,managing our mental state is important to acondition such as MS, which is considered aninflammatory autoimmune condition. Youmight encourage a person with emotional stressto go out in nature, try talk therapy, or eat ahealthy diet. But if mental stress contributes tophysical illness, shouldn’t those of us who arephysically ill get those recommendations as well?
The simple truth is that the mind is a product of the body and cannot function separately from the physical structures of the brain, nervous system, and neurochemicals. Furthermore, the body cannot function without the mind. We must view the mind and body as a whole in order to successfully treat physical or mental illness. This is the holistic view.