The link between poor mental health and physical illness & disease


The long term effects of stress upon physical health are well documented. Recognising how poor mental health arising from your attachment styles, your personality type or how you manage unresolved trauma allows for change. Unresolved, these issues can lead to poor physical health and reduced life span.


For more information, I recommend the book -


'When the Body Says No. The Cost of Hidden Stress' by Gabor Mate M.D. 

(Published by Random House, Canada. 2012)

This book explores the role of the mind-body link in conditions and common diseases such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and multiple sclerosis.

It shares dozens of enlightening case studies and stories, including patients with ALS, breast cancer, Alzheimer's, ovarian cancer and testicular cancer.

The book includes the Seven A's of healing: principles of healing and prevention of illness from hidden stress.

This book gave me a great insight into the underlying causes of poor physical health arising from poor mental health and the effects of significant trauma or how a dysfunctional upbringing can have lasting, life impacting negative health effects on people. It supports the nature of my work as a person-centred counsellor in that supporting clients' self-awareness and helping clients build their inner resources facilitates their positive personal growth.

There are many parts of the book which I feel hold messages which will support all of us when setting out to explore our negative patterns of behaviour or where we wish to expand our self-awareness. The insights which Dr Mate reveals within his patients’ cases and his research hold valuable opportunities which can support our own moments of reflection and awareness.


I have noted some sections of the book which cover client's questions and exploration of self that have arisen in my counselling sessions.

 How do I know if i'm skilled emotionally?

This requires –

  • Be able to feel our emotions, so we are aware when we experience stress.

  • Be able to express our emotions effectively to assert our needs and manage our emotional limits.

  • Be able to distinguish between demands upon us in the present and the ghosts that linger from the past. We need to work with the here and now; the present, rather than be held back by unconscious needs from childhood. If past and present blur, we will feel loss or threat of loss where none exists.

  • Be aware of and don’t ignore your genuine needs which will satisfy you because you feel others won’t approve or accept you.


Be aware. Be able to express. Distinguish between past and present. You satisfy your needs.

What if I care for others to my own detriment?

In one of Dr Mate's patient cases, a terminally ill patient learns at last to unconditionally love herself before she passes away. People sometimes believe that in order to be accepted by others and feel of worth to yourself, you must sacrifice your own needs. However, service through self-sacrifice is a dead end!

I notice that when clients realise they are trying to build their own happiness from the positive regard of others; if they can let go of this burden, a void that can never be fulfilled, then they can become comfortable with themselves and find genuine self-fulfilment.

(p.110-111) A study shows that men who were less able to experience themselves as individual, self-reliant adults were more likely to develop a number of diseases including prostate and other cancers.

Why do I feel emotionally uncomfortable or suddenly feel difficult emotions?

Dr Mate talks about how constant and chronic stress has a harmful effect upon us. He notes levels of stress may become so constant and regular that we think these are normal. Living with high levels of stress since early childhood may make the person feel out of sorts when the stress is absent. Feelings of unease, boredom and meaninglessness may arise from an addiction to our own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. When in this position, stress feels desirable and the absence of it to be avoided.

Stress is not simply nervous tension. Stress involves internal changes, not always visible, when we feel a threat to our well-being. Excessive stress occurs when the demands upon us exceed our ability to manage them. The rubber band snaps!

Remember, living with high levels of constant internal stress is extremely mentally and physically harmful for us.

Is it bad to bottle up or hide my emotions?

Dr Mate states that in numerous studies of cancer, the most consistently identified risk factor is the inability to express emotion, particularly feelings associated with anger. The repression of anger often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and lack of support leads to physiological stress.

If you do not feel or express negative emotions, you will be isolated, even if surrounded by friends, because your real self is not seen. Feelings of hopelessness lead to feelings of helplessness as you believe nothing can be done to make any difference.

I believe there is a lot of accuracy in the saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’

When things seem so bad that you feel an emotional or physical pain or more likely both, you can reduce the pain if you are able to share how you feel with someone safely. Remember or even tell them, they don’t have to ‘fix’ you and they don’t have to take the problem away. You just want to tell them how you feel right now.


Having someone just listen to you and acknowledge the difficulty you are experiencing right now can often feel liberating. When this occurs, the sensation can be felt physically in the reduction of your internal tension and mentally when you feel you can move to an emotional state where you feel able to work through your problem.

What is happening when my young child 'parents' me?

If the parent can’t put in the work to maintain the relationship, then the child has to. She does it by being the good girl. She does it by being developed, intelligent and mature. A relationship can become based on the parent’s needs, not the child’s. If the child then suffers a traumatic event, they may protect the parent from emotional pain by not telling them. The child might not let the parent know about it. She is taking care of the parent.

Being peacemaker is not the child’s role in the family. A child should be able to come to the parent and tell them of a traumatic event. The parent wants the child to tell them. It is not deliberate. It goes back to the parent’s experience of childhood.

I have experienced young and mature adult clients in counselling now learning to set the boundaries they should have learnt in childhood, but either hadn’t experienced boundaries or hadn't been shown how to set them by their parent. I always notice understanding boundaries is a huge life changing event for my clients.

Is my 'hero' really saving me all the time when things get tough?

Dr Mate talks with a patient who holds her father as her hero for ‘always being there for her’. Yet her father was never able to directly be available due to her stronger mother who constantly pressured her. Dr Mate suggests that the patient may do better to find a hero who could demonstrate self-assertion. He suggests she become her own hero.


This is an interesting issue of over promoting people to the point of idealisation, to heroes or rescuers to escape difficult times in our lives. This is a mistake as maybe those people are actually unable to or choose not to support our autonomy and individual choice. They may have our best interests at heart, but may make bad decisions for us or promote choices which are best for them.

Think to yourself, ‘Is that person really the hero or rescuer I think they are? Wouldn't I be more natural and wouldn't I be the real me if I were to begin to rely upon myself and rely upon my own resources in stressful times more than relying on others?’ This change may feel challenging at first, but over time you will learn how strong you really can be rather than always feeling you have to rely on others.


Whether you want to work on how you relate to others as an individual or whether you want to work on your couples relationship together, counselling can help. I will help you understand how relationships effect your wellbeing and mental health and I will help you return to your natural self, free to decide who and how you should be. I recognise and respect you are unique and free to choose who you should be and what your values are. Get in touch and we can discuss how counselling with me will improve your happiness and wellbeing

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