Mental illness can create significant strains on the body as well as the mind. The opposite is also true: physical disorders can cause symptoms that imitate many mental health conditions. Treating the underlying physical condition may resolve many psychological symptoms.
If you have a behavioral health client with mental health symptoms, always rule out underlying physical causes before writing a prescription for an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. Here are five common situations where a physical condition may cause mental symptoms.
1. Thyroid conditions
Your thyroid can have a big impact on mood, whether the thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism). Although these conditions come with a lot of physical symptoms that may be noticed first, they can also cause emotional issues like fatigue, depression, irritability, and restlessness.
Fatigue and dizziness are common symptoms of depression and dementia, especially in older clients. However, these symptoms can also be caused by a variety of medications, such as those for blood pressure or pain. If your clients complain about sluggishness, forgetfulness, or dizziness, check that they are not taking medications that may cause these symptoms.
3. Nutritional deficiencies
There is still a lot we don’t know about the link between nutrition, diet, and mental health. However, there is evidence that a deficiency of certain nutrients can cause symptoms that resemble mental illness. That’s why it’s a good idea to order a blood test for your clients to rule out these deficiencies, and counsel them on good nutrition and lifestyle choices.
Low vitamin D may cause symptoms of depression.
Lack of vitamin B12 can worsen depression, and is highly prevalent among patients with schizophrenia.
Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
4. Celiac disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac disease can cause damage in the small intestine and interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Thus, untreated celiac disease can cause several mental symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and mood swings. A strict gluten-free diet is the only available treatment for celiac disease.
5. Previous infections
Some infections can cause brain damage or inflammation that can lead to mental illness symptoms. For example, pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS) are linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder in children. Another example is viral infections, which may cause encephalitis that can trigger a variety of mental symptoms, from mood changes to hallucinations.
To rule out physical causes of mental health symptoms, you may need to:
Order blood tests, including thyroid function or antibody tests for celiac disease
Take a full personal and family medical history
Ask your client when they last received a physical exam or primary care checkup
Monitor your client’s diet and sleep habits
Recommend lifestyle changes, such as nutritional supplements
Don’t ignore physical health when treating a behavioral health client. Addressing the potential physical causes of your client’s mental health symptoms can help improve your client’s outcomes, and grow your practice’s value.
OutcomeTools from BestNotes can help you track your clients’ outcomes and administer and record questionnaires, either standardized or custom. Contact us today to learn how our solutions can help your behavioral health organization become more efficient and provide better value.