How is Physical Therapy’s Role in Mental Health?
Behavioral and mental health are part of a patient’s overall wellness status. How do PTs and PTAs contribute? What can and should they be doing as a regular part of practice?
In the United States each year, 19% of adults experience mental illness, according to a survey published in 2018 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. The same survey found that 4.5% of adults experience a serious mental illness, and one in six children (ages 6-17) experience a mental health disorder. In addition, approximately half of all Americans will be diagnosed with either a mental illness or disorder at some time in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Where do PTs, who work with the physical body, fit in?
Physical health and mental health are connected. The body can be negatively impacted by our postures, attitudes, emotions and even thoughts. Stress is the most notorious example. When felt for a prolonged period, it affects the functioning of the organism and can even weaken us momentarily.
Stress, anxiety, depression, panic, among other mental disorders, can aggravate symptoms or accelerate the progression of many physical illnesses.
Therefore, people who have serious health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension, should take even more care of mental health. The onset of mental disorders can hinder treatment and coexistence with these diseases.
Part of the PT’s role in treating the entire person, is to recognize the signs and symptoms of behavioral and mental health illnesses, screen for those conditions, and make referrals, if necessary. “Often it’s not pain alone that brings patients into physical therapy. They frequently have a worry attached to the pain. This worry may be associated with suffering, and we either can help alleviate it or point that patient toward an appropriate professional who can help.” According to Timothy Benedict (PT, DPT, PhD)
“If we’re having difficulty engaging our patient in a plan of care and in activities that have a good chance of making them better, our job is to assess those barriers,” and “Sometimes they track back to mental health issues or social determinants. If we’re not paying attention to that, then we’re going to have a difficult time working around barriers to achieve our goals with the patients.” Sarah Wenger, PT, DPT.
Importance of taking care of mental health and physical health
How the body and mind work together, it makes sense to take care of both, right?
In addition to psychotherapy and pain medicine treatment, the person with mental disorders can start to take care of their own health by modifying their own habits.
One of the best tips to maintain mental and physical health is to practice exercises and have follow-up from a physiotherapist. In addition to releasing beneficial neurotransmitters for mood in the brain, it strengthens the heart, promotes blood circulation, improves concentration and regulates levels of hormone, cholesterol and glucose.
It is also important to monitor the quality of emotions and thoughts daily. Although exercises help maintain a high mood, they cannot be done everywhere and at all times so having frequent follow-up at a physiotherapy clinic can help patients.
Physiotherapy is considered as an applied science, whose objective of study is human movement in all its forms of expression and potentialities.
The general objective of physical therapy treatment in mental health is to offer the patient a maintenance of health status and reconcile the rehabilitation of his functional capacity, restoring his physical, social and mental integrity, thus providing an increase in the independence and quality of life of the individual, modulating and improving their self-control and optimizing the clinical treatment of the person with mental disorder.
The physiotherapist should understand the individual as a whole, regardless of his pathology, the patient’s body speaks. The fact that mental disorders have a psychological origin does not mean that they do not manifest themselves in real physical symptoms. Symptoms that bother and definitely interfere with a person's life and their satisfactory development. It is not surprising that these patients will develop pain, muscle tensions, poor postures, respiratory restrictions, psychomotricity disorders, inactivity (enhanced by the use of psychotropic medicines), among other symptoms and signs, in which physical therapists should be attentive during their evaluation and act with various and different techniques and methods that the profession offers.
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Sources: Mind Influencing Matter: By Michele Wojciechowski, (October, 2021) APTA.ORG/APTA-MAGAZINE