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Physical health and mental health

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Physical health and mental health

A clear distinction is often made between ‘mind’ and ‘body’. But when considering mental health and physical health, the two should not be thought of as separate.
Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions.
Since the founding of the NHS in 1948, physical care and mental health care have largely been disconnected. There is an increasing call on healthcare professionals to consider psychological wellbeing when treating the physical symptoms of a condition and vice versa. You can read about the work we do as a Foundation to lobby government policies on the subject.

How mental health affects physical health

There are various ways in which poor mental health has been shown to be detrimental to physical health.
People with the highest levels of self-rated distress (compared to lowest rates of distress) were 32% more likely to have died from cancer.1,2 Depression has been found to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease

Schizophrenia is associated with:

  • double the risk of death from heart disease
  • three times the risk of death from respiratory disease.

This is because people with mental health conditions are less likely to receive the physical healthcare they’re entitled to. Mental health service users are statistically less likely to receive the routine checks (like blood pressure, weight and cholesterol) that might detect symptoms of these physical health conditions earlier. They are also not as likely to be offered help to give up smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and make positive adjustments to their diet.

Lifestyle Factors

These lifestyle factors can influence the state of both your physical and mental health.


Physical activity in any form is a great way to keep you physically healthy as well as improving your mental wellbeing. Research shows that doing exercise influences the release and uptake of feel-good chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. Read the Let’s Get Physical report for more on the positive health benefits of physical activity.
Physical activity means any movement of your body that uses your muscles and expends energy. From tending your garden to running a marathon, even gentle forms of exercise can significantly improve your quality of life. For more tips on the ways in which you can build physical activity into your routine, download our Let’s get physical booklet.


Good nutrition is a crucial factor in influencing the way we feel. A healthy balanced diet is one that includes healthy amounts of proteins, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. The food we eat can influence the development, management and prevention of numerous mental health conditions including depression and Alzheimer’s.  Read about the ways in which you can ensure you are getting a balanced diet.


Smoking has a negative impact on both mental and physical health. Many people with mental health problems believe that smoking relieves their symptoms, but these effects are only short-term.

  • People with depression are twice as likely to smoke as other people.
  • People with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke as other people.

Nicotine in cigarettes interferes with the chemicals in our brains. Dopamine is a chemical which influences positive feelings, and is often found to be lower in people with depression. Nicotine temporarily increases the levels of dopamine, but also switches off the brain’s natural mechanism for making the chemical. In the long term, this can make a person feel as though they need more and more nicotine in order to repeat this positive sensation.

Long-term health conditions and mental health

The promotion of positive mental health can often be overlooked when treating a physical condition. Psoriasis is one such condition in which the effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms, impacting psychological wellbeing and quality of life.


Psoriasis is a condition which is commonly characterised by red flaky sores on the surface of the skin, but its effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms.
Psoriasis is an auto-immune condition commonly triggered by stress. It affects 1.8 million people in the UK and can impact on emotional as well as physical wellbeing.

  • Up to 85% feel annoyance with their psoriasis
  • Approximately one third experience anxiety and depression
  • 1 in 10 admit to contemplating suicide
  • 1 in 3 experience feelings of humiliation about their condition
  • 1 in 5 report being rejected (and stigmatised) as a result of their condition
  • 1/3 experience problems with loved ones.

Yet, a recent report from the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) highlighted that only 4% of Dermatology Units have access to a counsellor.
The physical and psychological impacts can be cyclically linked: the condition can cause emotional distress which can trigger a psoriasis flare and, as a result, cause further distress.
Some people with psoriasis can feel that their GP regards psoriasis as a minor skin complaint and are dismissive of the emotional aspects, leaving many to continue unaided on the isolating and emotional journey associated with psoriasis.

Mental Health Facts

Mental Health Facts

  • 1 in 5 (46.6 million) adults in the United States experience a mental health condition in a given year.
  • 1 in 25 (11.2 million) adults in the United States experience a serious mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 46.6 million adults in the United States face the reality of managing a mental illness every day.
  • Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24, but early intervention programs can help.
  • Up to 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness as revealed by psychological autopsy. 46% of those who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental illness.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. With effective care, suicidal thoughts are treatable, and suicide is preventable.
  • Individuals with mental health conditions face an average 11-year delay between experiencing symptoms and starting treatment.
  • Common barriers to treatment include the cost of mental health care and insurance, prejudice and discrimination, and structural barriers like transportation.
  • Even though most people can experience relief from symptoms and support for their recovery in treatment, less than half of the adults in the United States get the help they need.

What is Stigma?

What Is Stigma?

People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and even discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult. Stigma is when someone, or you yourself, views you in a negative way because you have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as shame that can be felt as a judgement from someone else or a feeling that is internal, something that confuses feeling bad with being bad.

Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. Learning how to cope with stigma and how to avoid and address stigma are important for all of us.

courtesy of our friends ad NAMI

Talk to your teen about their mental health

Adolescence is a difficult time for teens and parents. With so much change happening for your child, it can be difficult to know when they’re experiencing regular teen moodiness and when they might be struggling with their mental health

More than 22 percent of people between 13 and 18 will experience a mental health or substance use problem in a given year, and most don’t receive treatment. It’s key that teens feel comfortable talking to trusted adults in their life, and seeking help before they reach a crisis.

First, it’s important to recognize signs of mental health problems in your teen. Some symptoms are the same as adults, and some are specific to adolescence.

While not a complete list, some signs include:

  • Mood changes
  • Hopelessness
  • Tearfulness or crying
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Change in grades
  • Change in appetite
  • Isolation, or distancing themselves from certain friends or family
  • Irritability or anger
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Highly sensitive to criticism, or low self-esteem
  • Complain of aches and pains that don’t have a medical explanation
  • Risky behavior such as recklessness, drinking or unsafe sex

Regardless of whether you see these signs, it’s good to open the conversation about mental health with your teen, so if they feel like they’re struggling, they know they have a support system.

  1. Ask – Pick a time that feels comfortable, this might be when you’re in the car together, doing the dishes, or right before bed, and ask your teen how they’re doing. You can start by commenting on something you’ve noticed, in a neutral way, like, “I noticed you haven’t been hanging out with your friends as often as you used to. Is everything ok?” or “How are you feeling? It seems like things have been hard lately.”

*It’s a good idea, if you suspect they may be experiencing depression, to ask them if they’ve considered hurting themselves, or if they have thoughts of suicide. Talking about it won’t put the idea in their head, but it could save their life.

  1. Listen – The most important thing you can do for your teen is to listen without judgement to what they’re experiencing and how they feel. Try to really understand and empathize with what they’re telling you, and don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions.
  2. Validate – Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they don’t have real stress and real emotional turmoil. Make sure as you talk with them, you don’t brush away their feelings as “just” teen angst. It’s also really important to let them know that mental health disorders are common and treatable. It will get better for them, even if they’re going through a rough patch.
  3. Talk about next steps – If they’ve been open to talking to you about what they’re going through, discuss what ways they might be comfortable to get help.

If your teen doesn’t seem to want to open up about their feelings, don’t worry! It’s not a one-time conversation. Just letting them know that you’re there for them, that you care, and that you will support them in anything they’re dealing with goes a long way.

Co-occurring Alcohol Use Disorder And Mental Health

Co-occurring alcohol use disorder and mental health

It’s not uncommon for someone who has one mental health disorder to also be living with another. For example, people will often experience both depression and anxiety at the same time, and the symptoms of these disorders can be difficult to manage together.

The same is true of alcohol use disorder and other mental health disorders, like depression or bipolar disorder. Someone who is dependent on alcohol is up to six times more likely to develop a mental health disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.

The challenge of having both alcohol and other mental health disorders is that they feed into each other. Often people will turn to alcohol as a coping method when they’re going through a rough patch due to another mental health disorder, but alcohol’s effect on someone’s body, hormones, and behavior can worsen their mental health symptoms.

If you’re worried about how your drinking habits might be impacting your mood, try some of these tips to cut back or cut out alcohol.

To cut out alcohol:

  • Find a different way to cope with stress. When you have a bad day or something stressful is weighing on you, try talking to a friend about it, exercising, or finding a creative outlet rather than reaching for a drink.
  • Avoid situations that are triggers for you. If you have friends who you usually go to a bar with, try to invite them out for coffee on the weekend instead.
  • Don’t keep alcohol in your house, even if you live with others who still drink. Ask them to support you in your mission to get mentally healthier.

To cut back on drinking:

  • Set a goal for yourself and record how many drinks you have each week. You can do this on your phone, if you want to be more discreet about it.
  • Space your drinks by having a non-alcoholic drink between alcoholic ones. This will keep you more hydrated, and may help you feel less conspicuous around others who may be drinking more than you.
  • Choose alcohol free days, and stick to it. You can even pick a reward to look forward to after meeting your goal – but just make sure the reward isn’t a drink!

If you can’t seem to cut back or cut our alcohol, it might be time to seek out professional help.

It’s really key that someone who has a co-occurrence of these disorders get help for both simultaneously, or recovery will be much more challenging. If you think you or a loved one might have a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder, take a mental health screening to get insight:

Get a checkup, from your neck up.

Why is everyone talking about vaping?

Why is everyone talking about Vaping?

Risa Turetsky
Pitkin County Public Health
Courtney Dunn
Prevention Specialist, Aspen School District

We want to talk about vaping, but first we want you to think about the young person in your life, whether it’s your child or another child or children in your life. Take a moment to reflect on what you want most for this young person. Maybe it’s health or happiness or reaching their dreams. Let’s start there. While concerns around vaping among youth are real, and we will speak to them here, keeping the bigger picture in mind is really helpful, and lays the foundation to be able to best support our kids as they learn to make important decisions for themselves, including but certainly not limited to vaping.

Now about vaping

Vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes containing nicotine (you can vape other substances, but for this article we are referring to nicotine vaping), has been all over the news recently so you may have heard about it. The U.S. FDA and Surgeon General’s offices have labeled teen vaping an “epidemic”, however the situation in Colorado is unique. Colorado youth are vaping nicotine at 2x the national average and ranking number one in the country. And, in the past few years in the Roaring Fork Valley, the percent of young people who report vaping recently (within the past month) has doubled.

So what, isn’t it just flavored water? (Answer: No!)

E-cigarettes are just what they sound like – electronic devices to get nicotine into your body. Like a traditional cigarette but with a battery and with a liquid containing nicotine instead of the tobacco leaves. Just about every e-cigarette product on the market has nicotine in it, even if the label does not clearly say it (there are national laws that will regulate this but haven’t gone into effect yet). Then there are a host of other chemicals that create the flavor, the “feel”, and the cloud. This is an image from the CDC about the contents:

Colorado has the highest rate of high school students who reported vaping on the 2017 Healthy Kids Survey among the 37 states that participated in the survey.

These chemicals are concerning in and of themselves – there are several known carcinogens and there are also several toxins that are approved for eating but not approved for inhalation, and experience shows they may be toxic when inhaled. CNN’s Juul and the Vape Debate video does a good job of explaining the potential harms of the e-cigarette contents.

However, the biggest concern is the nicotine. Juul, the e-cigarette product that has captured ~70% of the youth market and looks similar to a flash drive, has small interchangeable pods that contain the “vape juice” or liquid nicotine and flavoring. The pods have the same amount of nicotine as 1 pack of cigarettes (and take about 200 puffs to finish). Concerns about nicotine:

    • Nicotine changes the way the brain develops, impacting long term learning and concentration. The teenage brain is developing until the age of 25. Early exposure to nicotine actually changes the construction of brain pathways.
    • Nicotine impacts short term learning, focus, and memory. While kids might feel temporarily focused after a rip from their vape device, that high wears off in about 30 minutes and leaves them antsy and distracted.
  • Nicotine is highly addictive to young people. Nicotine is one of the most highly addictive substances. Young people are particularly susceptible to addiction because of their brain development, and it can lead to greater propensity to addiction in general.

What can we do?

  1. Stay informed. You’ve taken the first step by reading this article. There are many more helpful resources, some of which are listed below. Keep reading, but most of all, ask the young people in your life what they know.
  • Talk to your kids. Before you start the conversation with a young person about vaping, reflect on your personal point of view, your ability to be a role model, what you want the result of the conversation to be, and reflect on the context of the conversation – are you preventing a situation or responding to one?

During the conversation, use open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. Affirm the young person by focusing on strengths and assets that they have. Use reflective listening by confirming what you are hearing; you can do this by repeating and rephrasing, and paraphrasing what you are hearing, and by acknowledging a feeling.

When talking to your young person, empathize with their feelings, avoid showing judgment, keep asking questions and check for understanding, celebrate their strengths, know when you need to walk away or reschedule the conversation, help them practice skills that reduce stress, and help them get involved with positive activities.

Remember to have ongoing conversations with your youth about vaping. This is not a one-time conversation, or a conversation only during times of discipline or stress.

Check out Speak Now Colorado for practical tips and more information about being a trusted adult for the young people in your life.

  • Set clear rules and expectations. Whether you’re a parent, a coach, or anyone else who works closely with young people, you can help change the game. Setting clear rules and expectations not only gives young people boundaries, it makes your values and beliefs clear. Plus, it may give them a way to say “I’ll pass” when presented with a peer pressure situation.
  • Reach out when you need support. There are lots of other people working on this too. Your best resource is in the schools – reach out to your child’s school and find out what resources are available. You can also check out the Colorado QuitLine – Kids can join the QuitLine from the age of 12 and even use on online-only platform.
  • Support local and state policy efforts. Follow organizations like Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids to know what’s happening.