Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mental Health and Physical Health — Maintaining the Balance

Today’s National Public Health Week guest blog is by Kawika Liu, MD, PhD, JD, Chair Elect of the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus for Public Health 
For centuries, Asian and Pacific Islander cultures have, in different ways, made the connection that the mind and body are inseparable, a connection that Western science has only more recently recognized. In some Asian cultures, the mind-body unity is a condition to be strived for, while in traditional Hawaiian culture, maintaining pono (balance) is a key obligation for all beings.1  Maori can draw on the strengths of hinengaro (psychological), wairua (spiritual), tinana (physical) and whanau (family) health in order to remain healthy. 2

What does Western science tell us about the mind-body connection? Initially, people who have very serious mental illness live much shorter lives than people without such illness, from 13.5 to 32 years shorter.3 And not all of this difference in life span is explained by increased risk for suicide, as people with serious mental illness die earlier of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than people without mental illness.4 Physical illnesses such as diabetes can also increase the risk for mental illness, such as depression.5 Social factors, such as discrimination and poverty, also can contribute to both mental and physical illness. 6,7
Thus, because it is important to maintain mental health in order to be physically healthy, and to be physically healthy in order to maintain mental health, what can you do?
  •  Embrace the positive in life: recognize and celebrate your successes and the good people in your life.
  •  Learn techniques for self-relaxation, and other stress management tools.
  •  Know yourself, your physical, mental and emotional strengths and areas that need to be strengthened.
  • Maintain your physical health, including getting enough rest, exercise, and eating well.
  •  Nurture positive relationships, particularly with family and community.
  • Take time to refresh yourself in creative, fun or relaxing activities.
  •  Participate in activities that help you maintain your sense of who you are, in your culture and/or community.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of depression and anxiety, and seek treatment.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol.

For more information contact: Mental Health America,; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration,

1. Yuasa Y. The body: towards an Eastern mind-body theory. Available at:
2. BPACNZ. Te whakataunga me te maimoatanga o nga mate o te hinengaro Maori: recognizing and managing mental health problems in Maori. Available at:
3. National Association of State Mental Health Directors. Available at:

4. Platt EE, Munetz R, Ritter C. An examination of premature mortality among decedents with serious mental illness and those in the general population. Psychiatric Services. 2010 July 1;61(7). Available at:
5. American Diabetes Association. Depression. Avaiable at:
6. Lu N, Samuels ME, Wilson R. Socioeconomic differences in health: How much do health behaviors and health insurance coverage account for? J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2004;15:618-630.
7. Isaacs SL, Schroeder SA. Class—the ignored determinant of the nation’s health. N Engl J Med. 2004;351:1137-1142.

8. Canadian Mental Health Association. Ten tips for mental health. Available at:
9. Maryland Coalition on Mental Health and Aging. Maintaining mental health. Available at:

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