Scientists continue to study how physical and mental health are intricately connected — and how what you think may dramatically affect how you feel.
That idea of a brain-body connection is a foundational principle of what’s called whole person health.
"It goes beyond just treating physical illness and injury and considers other things that may impact well-being, such as behavioral, social and environmental factors,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare. “Whole person health is generally a broader picture of what may contribute to or detract from health.”
A whole person approach acknowledges the growing body of research around the connection between brain and body, such as the link between anxiety and gut health. It also recognizes that each person is unique and that effective care must be geared to individual needs and goals.
Factors that could affect whole person health include:
- Eating habits and physical fitness
- Mental health and substance use
- Past traumatic experiences
- Work and home life environments
- Socio-economic considerations
Here are three actions steps to help you move toward whole person care:
1. Evaluate your overall well-being. Consider your life from all angles to assess where you stand and where you’d like to go. This may be valuable for conversations with your care team. Questions to consider may include:
— Do you have physical health concerns?
— Are there things that weigh you down or cause worry?
— What’s missing in your life?
— Are there things you’d like to remove?
— Do you have unmet goals?
2. Make mental health discussions part of physical exams. People of all ages with depression are at higher risk of developing certain physical illnesses, suggesting that mental health may act as a protective factor in aging. These findings underscore the importance of including proactive discussions about mental health in appointments with your primary care doctor. Be ready to talk with your doctor about more than physical pain.
3. Search for like-minded providers to support you. As you build your care team, look for professionals who subscribe to the whole health model. Do background research and select providers who understand the interconnectedness of physical and mental health — and the value of coordinating care in a whole-health plan.
“A whole person approach acknowledges that medical intervention isn’t the only way to move the needle toward better health,” Dr. Randall said. “Self-care, lifestyle changes and early behavioral intervention may also help you feel better — perhaps even reducing what it costs to improve and maintain health.”
For more information, visit uhc.com.