We have more reason to be vigilant about mental health: not only does it impact the mind, but also the heart.
Scientists from the University of South Australia have discovered more evidence showing mental illness also leads to physical impacts, including blood pressure and heart variations which can lead to cardiovascular disease and organ damage.
The new study published in BioMedical Engineering reveals how there can be more to heart problems than just lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet.
UniSA researcher Dr Renly Lim and colleagues from Malaysian universities found evidence confirming mental illness interferes with autonomic body functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and breathing.
“We reviewed 12 studies on people with anxiety, depression and panic disorders and found that, regardless of age, mental illness is significantly associated with greater blood pressure variations during the day,” Dr Lim says.
She says their study also found that those who were mentally ill had heart rates that were not adapting to external stressors.
“Contrary to what many people think, a healthy heart is not one that beats like a metronome. Instead, it should adjust to withstand environmental and psychological challenges. A constantly changing heart rate is actually a sign of good health”
A person’s heart rate is how many times their heart beats per minute and is usually consistent.
Heart rate variation (HRV) is the time between two heartbeats, which should vary with external stressors.
A reduced HRV is common for people with a mental illness and is a strong indicator of poor body responsiveness to stress.
“What we aim for is not a constantly changing heart rate but a high heart rate variation. This is achieved through a healthy diet, exercise, low stress, and good mental health,” Dr Lim said.
With mental health rising as a bigger societal issue, this study and others continue to advocate for the need to raise awareness and knowledge to replace complacency.
“It is a major global burden, affecting between 11-18 per cent [one billion] of people worldwide, said Dr Lim.
“Since mental illness can contribute to the deterioration of heart and blood pressure regulation, early therapeutic intervention is essential.”