Rachel Kelly
Writer, Mental Health Campaigner, Public Speaker

I’m not mentally unwell. I’m just unwell.

I blame De­scar­tes. In the seven­teenth cen­tu­ry, this French philosoph­er and scient­ist split mind and body, ar­gu­ing that the two were dis­tinct. We’ve lived with the con­sequ­ences ever since.

The NHS dis­tin­guis­hes bet­ween mind and body – and can use the di­vis­ion as an ex­cuse not to fund ment­al health ser­vices. And I used to em­brace the split too un­till I was afflic­ted by two severe de­pres­sive epi­sodes. I was as­tonis­hed by how physical­ly un­well I be­came.

I could­n’t sleep. My heart sped up. I felt nause­ous. I was suicid­al, not be­cause I didn’t like my life but be­cause I felt so rot­ten.Aft­er ten years of try­ing to un­derstand the truth of ment­al il­l­ness,

I now think De­scar­tes is wrong… It’s not just that ment­al and phys­ical health are con­nec­ted. They are indissoluble. The mind doesn’t exist out­side the body. A body with­out a mind is a cor­pse.

Try this for a mo­ment. Take a deep breath. Let your should­ers drop. Close your eyes. Breat­he. And notice some­th­ing. It’s im­pos­sible to be physical­ly re­laxed and men­tal­ly tense. Equal­ly, if you feel tense, your body fol­lows.

In cul­tures where ex­press­ions of the mind are not al­lowed, this can man­ifest it­self in sym­ptoms of pain, even para­lysis. Those who have suf­fered in­toler­able trauma such as childhood sexu­al abuse often have a wide range of phys­ical sym­ptoms.

Equal­ly the phys­ical body breaks down when the mind can’t take any more trauma. Thryoid dis­ord­ers, psoriasis, and arthritis are all auto­im­mune il­l­ness which can de­velop at times of em­otion­al stress.

Once we ac­cept the union of ment­al and phys­ical health, a few th­ings be­come clear. First we should ditch the word ‘ment­al health’ al­togeth­er. We should talk about some­one’s health - all in. We would lose much of the stig­ma that still sur­rounds say­ing we are ‘men­tal­ly’ un­well. We’re not. We’re just un­well.

Second, di­ag­nosis. We need to look more to un­der­ly­ing causes for why we often feel so glum, many of them phys­ical. We sit at our desks. We eat junk food. We often suf­f­er from chronic high levels of in­flam­ma­tion. We live in cit­ies. Di­vor­ced from na­ture. And each other.

Fin­al­ly, treat­ment. What pro­motes good car­diovas­cular, end­oc­rine, di­ges­tive and and mus­culos­kelet­al health also pro­motes good ment­al health and vice versa. Yet GPs are given only a few hours of nut­rition­al train­ing.

When I look back at my own battle with the Black Dog, I wish I’d un­derstood that my ment­al health was em­bodied. I do now.

Thanks De­scar­tes, but your time is up.

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Read Rac­hel's blog about how therapy hel­ped in her re­cove­ry - 'In the client's chair: the end of the rain­bow'