“You’re a physiotherapy clinic. Why do you offer mental health services?”
By Anne-Marie Sylvester, M.Ed., RCC
*** Please note that this blog post contains content that may be emotionally triggering to some. ***
At the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic, we often see people react in surprise when hearing that we offer psychotherapy and clinical counselling. The title of this blog is a common question that we get. So, I think it is worth directly addressing the relevancy of mental health to physical health.
One of our top priorities at SNPC is to maximize and help to facilitate our clients’ recovery as much as possible. One way that we approach this is through offering the most comprehensive programs that we can. This goal of ours, in combination with the knowledge that there is a bidirectional relationship between our physical health and mental health, means that we emphasize offering services that also support the mental health needs of our clients.
Let us review some of the ways in which one’s mental health can play a role within the context of physical recovery. Here are a few examples that weave together common experiences of clients that come to our clinic.
1. Challenges to one’s physical health can catalyze changes in one’s life that ultimately impact their mental health.
Consider this scenario. Someone has a concussion after a motor vehicle accident. While experiencing the concussion symptoms, this person is no longer able to engage in the activities they love, and now their sense of joy in life has reduced. Perhaps their symptoms make socializing difficult or even intolerable, and now they are feeling more isolated and lonely. Their friends and family members don’t understand what it’s like for them, which further triggers a sense of isolation and loneliness. Perhaps they are unable to work or engage in activities of daily living that they usually do, and this negatively influences their sense of purpose, meaning, or even adds some financial distress. Maybe it triggers a mixed bag of challenging emotions, including sadness and grief over the sense of loss that came after the injury, anger towards the injustice of the situation, fear of what the future will look like, and confusion over how to handle it.
2. Mental health challenges can make effective engagement in physical recovery more difficult.
Consider this scenario. Someone who is struggling with anxiety and depression may find it very challenging to engage in activities, including ones that are important to their recovery. Perhaps this person is afraid of triggering a symptom they hate most, and so they avoid engaging in exercises or activities that hold a slight chance of triggering this symptom. Avoidance is sneaky. It dresses itself as something that is helpful and offers security, but quite often it can prevent someone from taking part in the exact activities that will ultimately facilitate their healing and recovery process.
Perhaps this person is experiencing low motivation and low energy levels, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, or intrusive thinking patterns. They may experience thoughts along the lines of:
- “What if these symptoms never go away?”
- “My recovery is progressing slower than I thought, so this must mean something is wrong.”
- “What if I do something and I accidentally make everything worse?”
This common line of thinking can make it very challenging to engage in the exercises or approaches that are important for successful recovery.
3. Mental health challenges can exacerbate physical challenges.
Consider this scenario. A person is currently recovering from the onset of a vestibular condition. They experience dizziness, balance issues, and migraines. Let’s say this person also tends to feel anxious at times. When they feel anxious, they hyperventilate, their muscles tense up, and they feel a sense of dread. This can exacerbate or trigger their dizziness and migraines. The more anxious they feel, the more intense their experience of their symptoms can be. The more symptoms they experience, the harder they find it to engage in their treatment exercises.
As you can probably tell by now, there is a whole list of examples of how one’s mental health and physical health can influence one another. Because of this bidirectional relationship, when there are changes in one area, we often see some effects in the other as well.
I recognize that it may feel overwhelming to note how other factors can make physical recovery more challenging. Recovery from an injury or condition is challenging enough as it is. However, there’s a very hopeful perspective here that I would like to highlight: because of this bidirectional relationship between our mental health and physical health, attending to our mental health is an additional way to help further along one’s recovery! This means that there are more things we can do to help you recover and make the recovery process easier to navigate!
So, how does one know when to consider reaching out for mental health services? Here is a list of common situations that arise for individuals recovering from a physical injury, condition, or illness:
- Struggling with overthinking
- Feeling anxious
- Experiencing a sense of panic
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling a sense of helplessness or hopelessness
- Experiencing an increase in anger, fear, regret, shame, guilt, sadness, confusion, denial, resignation
- Having a harder time than usual controlling one’s emotions
- History of, or recent, trauma
- Experiencing a sense of loss. Often physical conditions come with significant loss – loss of agency/control, lifestyle, independence, identity/sense of self, health, and ability to function at the same capacity.
- Having a difficult time coping with everyday life
- Not currently having the capacity to engage in one’s usual self-care activities and hobbies
- Loneliness; not feeling understood by loved ones and friends; feeling isolated
- Low self-esteem or confidence
- Feeling fearful of the future
- Avoiding activities or spending time with people that you usually enjoy spending time with
If you can relate to any of the components listed above, I invite you to reflect on whether you could benefit from seeking mental health services. It may feel like a big step to take, but it can ultimately serve as a big step forward in your recovery journey.
If any of the content of this blog feels triggering, please consider ways in which you can feel comfortable, supported and safe. The following are some resources that may be relevant to you:
- Vancouver Crisis Centre Distress Line: 604-872-3311
- Fraser Health Crisis Line: 1-877-820-7444
- Suicide Priority Line: 1-800-784-2433
- Indigenous Crisis Line: 1-250-723-4050
- Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366