Stop separating body and mind

Laura Hemmings and Dr Erin Byrd reflect upon the importance of integrating physical and mental health across physiotherapy specialisms

Laura Hemmings and Dr Erin Byrd
Laura Hemmings and Dr Erin Byrd

Mental health diagnoses are increasing globally and, with the ongoing impact of Covid-19, never has there been a more crucial time to integrate physical and mental health within physiotherapy practice. Evidence demonstrates bidirectional links between mental health and many persistent conditions physiotherapists regularly treat. High prevalence of mental health diagnoses and chronic conditions, including pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and stroke, suggest a likelihood that we will all see patients with symptoms of mental ill-health with increasing regularity. 

Yet our research highlights decreased access and experience of physiotherapy for those with mental health diagnosis and poor integration of physical and psychological needs. Too many people are experiencing barriers to vital rehabilitation due to poor integration of care, diagnostic overshadowing, or premature discharge. 

‘But mental health is out of my scope of practice’ – false! 

Alone, evidence around exercise for mental health suggests otherwise. Exercise, a cornerstone of physiotherapy, can prevent and decrease symptoms of mental health diagnoses such as depression and anxiety. Additionally, we have unique skills within the multidisciplinary team to develop and supervise safe exercise programmes for people experiencing serious mental diagnosis, such as eating disorders, that can be central to recovery. 

Across all specialisms, we cannot expect to achieve optimal outcomes without consideration of all factors which may impact a person’s experience of their condition. The person with chronic pain and depression; COPD and anxiety; frailty and dementia; how can we have a lasting impact without considering their mental health and the bidirectional links with their physical presentation?

Physiotherapists have a broad and unique skill set to rehabilitate body and mind, delivering integrated care which benefits physical and mental health. We must take the time to listen and understand the person, not just their presenting complaint. Let’s stop separating mind from body and ensure consideration of physical and mental health.

Take part in the study by using this link 'Physiotherapists' Attitudes Towards Working with Patients with Mental Health Diagnosis: A Mixed Methods Study'

Laura Hemmings is a teaching fellow at the University of Birmingham and education lead for Chartered Physiotherapists in Mental Health (CPMH). Erin Byrd is a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and digital and communications lead for CPMH.

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