How do mental and physical health affect each other, especially in combination with CVD?

22nd January 2024

As we start the New Year, our Chief Executive, Dr Linda Edwards, considers the correlation between mental health and heart health. 

The connection between heart and mental health

Many people focus on their physical health – aches pains, breathing problems and so on, with scant regard for their mental wellbeing. Yet, recent research shows a correlation between heart disease and mental health; highlighting the impact can works both ways. 

Current research

According to a BMJ article published in 2017 people with severe mental health conditions are more likely to have a shortened life expectancy of between 10-17.5 years in comparison to the general population and, CVD is a major contributor.

On the other hand, a recent study carried out by the British Heart Foundation in their Heart Matters survey, reviewed 2,777 readers with heart conditions. Most commonly participants were living with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina or had a heart attack. The results showed that almost 70% said that their condition had affected them mentally or emotionally, with anxiety being the most prevalent; over half said they felt low, depressed, or tearful.

This quote from an AMA article sums it all up: 

‘As clinicians delivering healthcare, we are very good at treating disease but often not as good at treating the person. The focus of our attention has been on the specific physical condition rather than the patient as a whole. Less attention has been given to psychological health and how that can contribute to physical health and disease. However, there is now an increasing appreciation of how psychological health can contribute not only in a negative way to cardiovascular disease (CVD) but also in a positive way to better cardiovascular health and reduce cardiovascular risk’.

Whole person centred care

This brings me back to a personal passion of mine – whole person centred care. People are whole people; they are not their asthma, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes or any associated comorbidities, they are a whole person with particular health challenges. They are not ‘diabetic’ or asthmatic, they are a person living with diabetes or asthma.

So, what is the purpose of simply looking at a condition rather than the whole person? Often one condition will clear up only to find something else emerges, whereas if we look at the whole person, we can support them based on their individual needs as a person, not a condition. We begin to understand their story and needs. Thought about logically, how can we separate out someone’s conditions, be they physical, mental, or emotional, from them as a person? The above quote highlights the need for a different approach, blending diagnostic skills with those of whole person coaching.

When I raise this with colleagues working in practice, they identify the lack of time to spend understanding the person in front of them. Yet how much time and funding are wasted in the longer term by simply focusing on one aspect of the person? Perhaps they have elevated blood pressure for which medication is prescribed. But what is the underlying cause of their elevated blood pressure? If this can be identified and steps taken to support the person in managing their wellbeing, how much angst, time and money will ultimately be saved? 

Working with our partners at Peak Health Coaching and Consultancy we are combining clinical Refresher workshops with health coaching to provide the best tools to see beyond the condition and support the whole person. Find out more about our courses via our website

I am committed to supporting whole person care, working with the team here at EfH and our partners to make a difference in health and wellbeing in all its many guises.

  1. Patients with severe mental illness have greatly increased cardiovascular risk, study finds | The BMJ
  2. Heart conditions and mental health – BHF
  3. Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association | Circulation (