Which Is More Important: Physical or Mental Health?
I see a certain question come up time and again in discussions about health—which is more important: physical or mental health? Even if no one directly asks that question, the undertone of a large number of these conversations pits these two aspects of health against one another. We're even seeing it now with the global pandemic that continues to shake the world.
How Are Physical and Mental Health Pitted Against One Another?
It can be a challenge to see how physical and mental health are pitted against one another when there isn't a blatant one versus the other setup. The way I'm seeing it with the pandemic is subtle and manifests more in an absence of mental health as a part of the ongoing conversation about navigating the pandemic.
I think we can all agree that many are speaking strongly about the physical side of combatting COVID-19: stay home, distance physically, wear your mask. These are each important parts of tackling this issue, but even as we're approaching the one-year mark of this virus changing our world, we're missing a key part of the conversation: mental health. I can see this where I am in Canada.
There are many resources out there to address mental health concerns related to the pandemic. Mental health organizations have included information on their websites, and even the Canadian government has a page on its website for the public,1 but, like with most mental health resources, it feels like we're meant to be searching for and finding these for ourselves.
The absence of mental health in the conversation on continuing to deal with the pandemic silently pits the two aspects of health against one another. It takes the question of whether physical or mental health is more important and suggests that physical health is the one on which we need to focus, elevating its importance to the general public. I watched a recent address from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau where he spoke about the pandemic, and the topic of mental health was noticeably absent.2 This surprises me as he and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, advocate for mental wellness.
Physical and Mental Health Are Both Important
The real answer to the question of whether physical or mental health is more important is that they're both important. As a result of this unfounded contest between mental and physical health, it feels like mental health is being downplayed as something not of great concern (mental health stigma often does the same). Yet, there are mental health organizations that have seen a rise in mental health struggles because of the pandemic and measures to stop it.3,4
Social media is rife with messages like "stay the f*** home," which creates an air of hostility around the conversation of how doing so impacts mental health. It suggests that we should just suck up any mental health struggles we might feel as a result of following pandemic guidelines because they're not as important. But we should address both physical and mental health to get through this situation.
Effectively Recognizing Both Physical and Mental Health as Important
The pandemic is a situation that we've never quite seen the likes of before, and we need to consider how to effectively recognize that physical and mental health are both important. We need to regularly include mental health concerns alongside the physical ones in discussions about the pandemic, and this is particularly true of our leaders. They can talk about the physical health aspect every time, so why not the mental health aspect as well?
I also challenge each of us to include both in our conversations about the pandemic so that we can be a part of demonstrating the answer: both physical and mental health are important.
- Canadian Institute of Health Research, "COVID-19 and Mental Health (CMH) Initiative." Government of Canada, October 28, 2020.
- Justin Trudeau — Prime Minister of Canada, "Update on COVID-19 and Marking the First National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Air Disasters." Youtube, January 8, 2021.
- Yousif, N., "Pandemic Re-Ignites Calls for Systemic Change in Mental Health Care." OrilliaMatters.com, January 10, 2021.
- Kirkey, S., "Shock Therapy: Curfew to Curtail COVID-19 Spread Might Just Worsen Public Mental Health, Morale." National Post, January 9, 2021.
Barton, L. (2021, January 11). Which Is More Important: Physical or Mental Health?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2021/1/which-is-more-important-physical-or-mental-health