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Physical Health for those with a Mental Illness in Western Australia

Updated: Jan 1

One of the challenges faced by people in WA 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 taxing. You’ll also find it difficult to give up habits like smoking or drinking, possibly because of amotivation 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 health professionals emphasize the patient's mental health but fail to adequately address their clients physical health.

I’ve listed below suggestion that we offer clients who see our psychiatrists in WA around managing their physical health.


YOU CAN HELP YOURSELF


Educating yourself

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

  • High blood pressure

  • Weight problems

  • Substance abuse (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 in say Broome or Busselton to start to address these.




A FEW CHANGES ARE NECESSARY


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


Drink water in place of sugary or carbonated drinks. Eat your meals regularly. Join a program such as Quitline that will help you quit smoking. You can take a walk rather than driving. Cook your meals



HAVE REGULAR PHYSICAL CHECKUPS


Psychiatrists and GP in Western Australia frequently run physical health check on their patients. Ask if you've not done one in a while. Physical health checks for clients across WA including in regional centres like Broome and Busselton should be happening yearly.


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

  • He or she will inquire of 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).


THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE


An active lifestyle promotes good physical health. 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.


There are many community services across regional WA which promote physical activity, 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.


A HEALTHY DIET IS IMPORTANT


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


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 amount of sugary foods, and drinks, and high fat, salt, or sugary foods.

  • Drinking lots of water


CARE FOR YOUR TEETH AND GUMS


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


YOU SHOULD 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 attendant 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. Inquire from your doctor if it is possible to switch medications or step down the dose to minimise the impacts on your physical health.


ASSISTING 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.


Work together to achieve your goals


Assist the person you are caring for to choose at least one at 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


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 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 Western Australia can:

Conduct a physical health check

Make provisions for screening tests

Make referrals to other health professionals in Western 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 WA.

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 Western Australia here.