One of the challenges faced by people in rural Australia who have a mental illness is managing their physical health alongside their psychiatric problems.

The reasons for these are:

  • Symptoms associated with a mental illness makes every-day activities like exercising or eating well very difficult. You’ll also find it challenging to give up habits like smoking or drinking, possibly because of the motivation of a sense of hopelessness as a result of depression.
  • Several medications used for treatment can cause problems for your physical health due to their side effects.
  • Several mental health professionals support the patient’s mental health but fail to adequately address their client’s physical health.

We’ve listed below the suggestion that we offer clients who see our psychiatrists around managing their physical health.

The girl with with a vase depicts that she has improved her physical and mental health.

The ways that you can help yourself to improve physical and mental health:

1. Educating yourself

Patients with a mental illness in regional Australia are at a higher risk of developing the following conditions.

  • High blood pressure
  • Weight problems
  • Substance use (problems with alcohol and drugs)
  • Heart problems
  • Teeth and gum issues
  • Asthma, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions

If you understand these physical risks associated with mental illness, you can work along with your health providers including your GP.

2. A few changes are necessary

Making small changes with your physical health can have multiple benefits.

Cook your meals, eat your meals regularly and drink water in place of sugary or carbonated drinks. In addition, join a program such as “Quitline” that will help you quit smoking. Similarly, you can take a walk nearby rather than driving.

3. Have regular physical and mental health checkups

Psychiatrists and GP in Australia frequently run a physical health check on their patients. Request if you’ve not done a checkup in a while. In fact, physical health checks for clients across Australia including in regional centres like Broome and Busselton should be happening annually.

Regular physical and mental health checkups are important

Your doctor doing the physical health check could do the following:

  • He or she will examine your medical history
  • Your doctor will ask questions about your lifestyle (diet, smoking, and drinking habits)
  • Check your weight
  • Review your blood pressure to see whether it’s on the high or low side
  • Order blood sugar and cholesterol tests
  • Provide or recommend screening tests (such as a bowel cancer test or a Pap smear).

4. Understand how Physical Exercise and a healthy diet improve your health?

Physical Exercise

An active lifestyle promotes good physical and mental health. Therefore, it is not surprising to know that exercise has positive benefits on mental health. People have reported and evidence shows an improvement in mental health symptoms after engaging in exercise.

In fact, there are many community services across regional Australia which promote physical activity. So, you can start by finding an activity or sport that they like. If you belong to a mental health support group in Broome or Busselton, you can request assistance in engaging in sport-related community activities.

Healthy diet

A healthy diet is important for your mood, health, and energy.

In fact, Healthy eating involves:

  • Having lots of vegetables, legumes, and fruit
  • Including wholemeal pasta, rice, and bread in your diet
  • Reducing your intake of alcohol
  • Reducing the number of sugary foods, and drinks, and high fat, salt, or sugary foods.
  • Drinking lots of water

5. Care about your teeth’s and gum’s health

It's important to care about your teeth's and gum's health

To maintain the health of your teeth and gums, do the following:

  • Brush twice daily
  • Visit your regional community dentist at least once a year
  • Drink plain water in place of sugary drinks
  • Find out if the medication that you are taking has any adverse effects on your teeth

6. Know about the risks and benefits of your medications

Inquire from your psychiatrist about the risks and benefits of your medications.

Certain medications have their side effects, for instance, causing you to feel dull, or even causing weight gain. For instance, antipsychotics have effects on cholesterol, weight, and blood sugar levels. Ask from your doctor if it is possible to switch medications or step down the dose to minimise the impacts on your physical health.

Supporting a person with their physical health

If your friend or a family member has a mental illness, you can help improve their physical health in several ways.

You can support a person to improve their physical health.

1. Work together to achieve your goals

Assist the person you are caring for to choose at least one and up to three realistic goals for their physical health.

For instance,

  • Taking a 30-minute walk couple of times a week
  • Drinking water after meals
  • Drawing up a weekly meal plan every Sunday

2. Set a good example

As a friend or relative, you can use your actions to influence the person you are caring for.

You may:

  • Reduce your tobacco smoking or alcohol-drinking habits
  • Cook together
  • Create daily cooking, eating, and shopping plan.

Which Professional can assist with physical and mental health?

Find out which professional can assist you to improve physical and mental health

The GP

If you have any inquiries about your physical health, then you can approach your GP. There are many GPs across regional areas such as in Busselton and Broome who keenly manage the healthcare of their client with mental health issues.

A GP in Australia can:

  • Conduct a physical health check
  • Make provisions for screening tests
  • Make referrals to other health professionals in Australia if need be.

Your GP is indispensable when it comes to taking care of your health. Ensure your psychiatrist informs your GP about diagnostic or treatment changes.

Psychiatrist

Your psychiatrist can help all aspects of your physical and mental health. You can inquire from your psychiatrist about:

Physical health challenges experienced by people with mental illness in regional Australia.

Side effects of the medications that have been prescribed for you, and its effects on your physical health.

Physical symptoms such as a cravings for junk food, weight gain, etc.

Dietitian

Dietitians are specialists in nutrition and healthy eating. They can help you to create a good eating plan – one that suits your condition. They can educate you on healthy eating, cooking, and food shopping.

You can locate an accredited Dietitian in Australia here.