People sometimes speak of a mind-body connection and never is that more evident than when it comes to health.
Gina Britton knows that. Her physical ailments exacerbated her mental health challenges.
“I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition,” Britton said. “I was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. And then I also was diagnosed with genetic immune dysfunction, immune immunoglobulin disorder.”
“The more that that affected my life, the more it fed into my depression because between the combination of the two, I couldn’t work full time anymore,” Britton added.
Dr. Paul Simione heads the Behavioral Health Center at Lee Health.
“We’ve gotten a much better sense that things are really very much connected,” Simione said.
Adding a mental health branch to the medical system reflects the modern approach of treating people as a whole. It starts with including a mental health screening as part of a primary care doctor visit.
“The beauty of doing that is that you begin to see psychological problems in a medical circumstance. And people get to talk about them as a whole person experience. And so they’re integrated. They’re conceptualized as integrated. People don’t have to feel badly about them, there’s much less stigma involved. And they can be treated both as a physical and as a psychological problem,” Simione said.
Physical and psychological conditions can play off of each other. For example, patients who have undergone major heart surgery will often go through a period of depression.
“It’s very common. Yeah, it’s very common. And we also know from most recent studies in neuroscience, that the neural pathways that mediate physical pain are exactly the same,” he said.
Nowadays, cancer treatment plans incorporate a mental health aspect with the understanding that it contributes to better outcomes.
“We’ve designed our clinical pathways to involve RNs as an assessment of a person’s psychological experience that is connected to their physical experience,” Simione said.
The reverse is also true. When people suffer from chronic mental health issues, it can cause problems with their physical health in the same way your immune system protects the body, stress aggravates it.
“When you have significant mental health problems, you also have correlated physical problems as well,” Simione said. “The reason for that is that so much of the difficulties affect organ systems, they affect brain functioning. So there’s this, you know, reciprocal enhancing relationship between what goes on in the brain and what goes on in the body.”
For Britton, it came down to understanding the relationship and balancing their needs.
“You really have to learn how to say no, sometimes if you know that doing something is going to put you in a precarious position as far as your health and your mental health,” she said.
If you are struggling or if you know a loved one who is in trouble, there is help and you are not alone. There is free and immediate support available 24/7. Below is a list of important resources:
In An Emergency
If you or a loved one is in immediate danger call 911. It is important to notify the operator that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for an officer trained in crisis intervention or trained to assist people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.
Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)
Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.
National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.
Below are mental health resources available to Southwest Floridians at the national and local level.
David Lawrence Center (Collier County)
SalusCare (Lee County)
(NAMI) National Alliance on Mental Illness, Collier County
(NAMI) National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry Counties
The National Alliance for Caregiving offers a free handbook
Circle of Care: A Guidebook for Mental Health Caregivers
Collier County Mental Health Court
Lee County Mental Health Court
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Local Support Groups: Anxiety and Depression Association of America
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help)
Local veterans resource: Home Base SWFL