Mental health is part of total health

October 6, 2022

By: Jacquelyn D. Heath
Special to The Milwaukee Times

During a recent doctor visit, I was asked to complete a written questionnaire about any symptoms of illness I may have experienced within the past 30 days. Of the 40 questions on the form, 37 involved situations that concerned physical health issues – such as fever, coughing, sneezing, allergies, blood pressure and pain fluctuations. Only 3 questions dealt with mental health status; and those were vaguely worded and placed at the end of the survey.

Relegating mental health issues to a back seat in the overall health picture seems to be standard procedure in the U.S. medical regimen. The fact is, mental health is just as important as physical health, and possibly more of a driving force in overall well-being.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how a person thinks, feels/believes and acts as they cope with life and its ever-changing, unpredictable events. It determines how we handle stress, view ourselves and others, and make decisions.

Treating mental health issues requires physicians to interact with patients on a person- to-person level. However, unless a person seeks out a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist, most mental health issues are addressed by primary care physicians during a routine periodic check-up. If a person doesn’t have a primary care doctor, then mental health issues may not be addressed at all.

According to a 2016 study by the American Time Use Survey and published by WebMD in which 19,200 doctors in 26 specialties participated, it was found that the typical medical appointment takes 121 minutes on average. That includes travel time, completing paperwork, waiting, lab work, and the actual medical exam. Of that 2-hour time allotment, only 13-20 minutes are spent on actual physician-patient interaction. That doesn’t leave enough time to get the patient’s or doctor’s name right, let alone to establish and build a mutually productive, trust-based, professional relationship, and answer any questions the patient or physician may have.

There are many benefits to addressing mental health issues on an equal basis with physical health. The primary benefit is an enhanced quality of life on many fronts, including:

• Clearer thinking and improved problem- solving
• Reduced anxiety
• Greater sense of inner peace
• Reduced risk of depression
• Improved, more effective sleep
• Increased self-esteem and self-acceptance
• Improved relationships with others

After more than two years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that we are turning the corner and putting that episode in the rear-view mirror of history… Modern science has been able to develop vaccines to help minimize the physical ravages of the disease. However, whether or not we acknowledge it, we are all still dealing with the mental trauma that the pandemic brought about for all of us – including death of loved ones, fear of contracting the disease, loss of face-to-face fellowship with family and friends, and other forms of social isolation.

There is no doubt that physical health is important; and the miracles that we have been able to develop over time through the application of science are not to be downplayed. However, the simple act of taking time to listen and try to understand what drives the mind has just as much to contribute in our quest to improve health as a human race. If we’re smart, we will take an integrated approach to both the mental and physical aspects of health to arrive at a more fulfilling, total experience of life.

Think about that, and act on it.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the writer and not of the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper or HT Group, LLC, its staff or management. “Our Community Voices” is a bi-weekly column exclusive to the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper.