What to know about the link between mental health and heart disease
Dr. Jennifer Ashton shares what to know about a new statement from the AHA.
A connection between mental health and heart health has been confirmed by the American Heart Association.
The AHA cites a "growing body of research" that shows good mental health can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve overall heart health in its statement, published Monday in the medical journal Circulation.
"There is increasing evidence that psychological health may be causally linked to biological processes and behaviors that contribute to and cause CVD [cardiovascular disease]," the statement reads, in part. "The preponderance of data suggest that interventions to improve psychological health can have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health."
For those with cardiovascular disease, the AHA recommends mental health screenings done by health care providers and mental health as part of the treatment process.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' chief medical correspondent, describes the types of mental health screenings that health care providers should provide as "a checkup from the neck up."
"Cardiologists should not just be listening to [a patient's] heart, but they should be looking at them and listening to their words and their feelings to see if they need intervention from a mental health or mental wellness perspective," Ashton said Tuesday on "Good Morning America." "But also, the primary care physicians, the health care providers that are seeing people before they have a diagnosis of heart disease need to be doing a checkup from the neck up."
"They need to ask how people are from a mental health standpoint," she said.
Ashton said that mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD, isolation, loneliness, pessimism and anger can have negative health risks, including heart complications.
Likewise, positive mental health conditions like optimism, mindfulness, emotional vitality and overall psychological well-being are good for the heart, according to Ashton.
"When we can’t see something we take it less seriously but we need to understand that mental health is not just the absence of something wrong," she said. "There are steps we can take to promote it and we need to get aggressive about that."
The AHA's statement on the link between mental health and heart health comes as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to have a negative effect on people's mental health.
Across the country, 45% of adults say the pandemic is having a negative effect on their mental health, a rate that increases for women, and Hispanic and Black adults, with those populations more likely to report a "major" mental health impact, according to a tracking poll released last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, causing about one in four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ashton recommends using mindfulness practices and meditation as well as journaling and therapy to help reduce anxiety, depression and stress.
"Journaling has been found by ***spam*** to be even as effective or sometimes more effective as talk therapy but again for those people who are suffering, mental health professionals are there for exactly this reason," she said. "There is no shame in asking for help."
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