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Clinical psychologist Vincent McDarby explains how physical health can affect your mental health and how to look after your mental health if you are experiencing a physical injury or illness.

Transcript for how does your physical health affect your mental health?

I’m a psychologist here in Our Lady’s children’s hospital, Crumlin and I suppose what my role is, is to see young people who have experienced some sort of illness or injury. Very often as a result of an injury or illness we can end up feeling anxious or sad or all kind of emotions.

Part of my job is to work with young people to help then explore how they feel after being given a diagnosis or having an injury and help them make sense of the emotions they feel. If there’s any particular areas of difficulty I help them to work through it.

Can an illness or injury affect out mental health?

If somebody experiences an illness or injury it can result in them feeling a bit sad or anxious or worried. It can result in a whole raft of different emotions that people can feel.

When that happens, often people are unsure why it’s happening. Sometimes they don’t make the connection between what’s happened and how they are feeling. Very often it’s hidden, they don’t talk to anyone about it.

How can I cope through my recovery?

If anybody finds that as a result of an illness or injury, that from a psychological point of view they’re feeling unwell or sad or anxious, the most important thing to do is talk to somebody. Talk to anybody and just explain, “look this is how I’m feeling, I’m not sure why I’m feeling like this.”

One of the most surprising things that people find, is that after an illness or injury, regardless of what it is. If they talk to other people they’ll often actually find that other people have experienced the exact same thing.

When we experience an illness or injury, the psychological reaction that we have to it, tends to be pretty common. It’s things that most people experience but we don’t realise we all experience similar things.

How do I tell people?

The old adage, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is very true. Very often feel that they don’t want to tell their friend or family member that they’re feeling unwell or they’ve had a particular diagnosis because they don’t want to burden them.

But if you talk to people that have had people disclose to them, they don’t generally feel burdened. They feel glad that the person feels confident enough that they can disclose to them and that they see this person as someone that can help them share the burden.

Can I still live a normal life?

Sometimes my role here is to help young people change their behaviour, as often, because of the illness or injury a person will have to change their behaviour. So this could involve medication, or having to take injections or having to do certain things that a doctor recommended.

Very often this can be hard, because young people are busy with school and with friends and with other things in their life. So to integrate some part of medical management or injury recovery into that can be difficult.

So often what I’ll do, is I’ll sit down with a person and we’ll do out a plan and figure out how best they can accomplish that. All while still being mindful of their everyday life so that they can still engage in what they like to do.

Any other advice?

For anybody that has any concerns, particularly with relation to mental health, one of the first things we tend to do is make our world very small. We may stop going out to visit friends or we may stop doing things that we used to like to do, because that’s how we make ourselves feel safe. But it’s important, particularly at those times that we don’t let our world get too small.

We need to continue doing the things that we enjoy, reach out and engage with friends and be with friends. They’re the people that can actually help us through the difficult times in our lives.

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