People with physical health problems ranging from back pain to cancer are three times more likely to seek mental health care than those without such woes, a new study finds.
"The interplay between our physical and mental health has long been suspected," lead author Jangho Yoon, a health policy economist who specialises in mental health policy issues at Ohio State University in Columbus, said.
"When I have back pain, I feel stressed. And if it impacts my ability to work or to do my usual activities, then I can feel upset or even a bit depressed," he said. "But no large-scale studies existed that showed the statistical proof of this correlation."
The findings may also highlight the need for better coordinated care between those who provide care for physical and mental health issues, Yoon's team said.
How the study was done
The study looked at data from more than 6 000 adults who took part in the 2004 and 2005 US Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys. None of the participants had previously reported a physical or mental health condition.
Even after omitting people with catastrophic physical conditions such as cancer, stroke and heart attack, the researchers still found that people with physical health issues were three times more likely to seek mental health care.
They also found that people who perceived their physical ailments to be severe were more likely to seek mental health care.
The study was published online recently in the journal Health Services Research.
Yoon believes that a simple screening survey may help doctors assess patients and direct them to mental health treatment if they require it.
That type of initiative would be "a win-win," Yoon said. "There is a chance of cost savings in our medical system if we identify potential mental health problems early, before they become more severe."
"More importantly, coordinated care and early intervention leads to better health outcomes, and better care for the patient," he added.
The American Psychological Association offers suggestions for coping with chronic illness.
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