Physical health and mental health are both essential to an individual’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, people suffering from mental health issues are often likely to develop a range of physical problems, including:
● Abnormal cholesterol levels
● High blood pressure
● High blood sugar levels
● Obesity

Nevertheless, there are ways to help safeguard a patient’s physical wellbeing. The most important method involves regularly checking their:
● Blood pressure
● Fats and lipids
● Glucose levels
● Weight
As well as the patient’s family medical history, you should also assess their lifestyle to identify the potential for severe physical conditions.
As a social worker, you can help your clients make positive changes to the way they live their lives.

1. Support their efforts to quit smoking

Smoking is known as a primary cause of premature mortality and smokers are at greater risk of:
● Cancer
● Circulatory disease
● Respiratory disease
In a UK study, it was found that around 30% of smokers in the UK have a mental health condition, and more than 40% of adults with a serious mental illness smoke. Helping people to quit smoking is one of the most effective interventions in terms of reducing the prevalence of physical illness and premature death. It can also have a positive impact on a person’s wellbeing and finances.

However, people with mental health issues may find it difficult to quit their smoking habit as they have often grown dependent on nicotine. For this reason, they will need even more encouragement and support from you. Here are some strategies you can implement.
● Besides offering support, encourage them to start nicotine replacement therapy.
● Help them manage their withdrawal symptoms.
● Help them gain access to smoking cessation services.
● Offer concise and relevant advice on how to quit smoking as well as information about the associated benefits.

2. Help them fight obesity

A healthy diet can reduce the likelihood of physical and mental illness. However, the number of obese people in England is on the increase. If a person is classified as obese, they may:
● Be at greater risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
● Find it challenging to undertake physical work or strenuous activities.
● Experience low self-esteem that will also affect their mental health.

You can help your clients lose weight by implementing the following advice:
● Monitor their weight regularly using BMI and other approved measurement methods.
● Include their nutritional requirements and weight management programme in their care plan.
● Check for any medication that may be contributing to their weight gain.
● Enrol them on a lifestyle weight management programme.
● Work with other healthcare professionals to help them gain better access to healthier food.

You can also provide advice to your clients regarding:
● Their eating habits
● Healthy and balanced diets
● Healthy food choices
● Selecting food based on the labels
● Meal preparation

3. Show them how to increase their physical activity

Increasing the amount of physical activity a person does will not only improve their physical and mental health but will also:
● Enhance their psychological wellbeing
● Improve their life expectancy
● Reduce mortality

Patients with a severe mental health problem, such as bipolar disorder, often have a sedentary lifestyle. As a result, there is a greater risk that they will become obese. It is therefore imperative that they are encouraged to undertake more physical activities, such as:
● 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise in bouts of 10 minutes or more, at least five days a week.
● 75 minutes of vigorous activity spread across a week.
● Gym work or something simple such as carrying heavy shopping bags.

They should also minimise the amount of time they are sedentary for any extended period of time.

4. Encourage them to abstain from or reduce their alcohol or substance abuse

Alcohol and substance abuse are common problems among people with mental health issues, almost twice the rate of the general population.
According to this article, social workers need to be patient and compassionate when dealing with this delicate issue. They should try to apply the following guidance in their practice.
● Build and maintain relationships based on respect and trust.
● Adopt a non-judgmental attitude when working with people with substance abuse problems.
● Consider alcohol and drug misuse as a critical component of the mental health assessment.
● Provide information about the dangers and effects of substance abuse on a person’s physical and mental health.
● Encourage clients aged 16 and over to undergo screening for alcohol abuse disorders and offer appropriate interventions.
● If a client is not prepared to stop misusing drugs or alcohol, provide information and treatment options to help alleviate the associated negative effects.
● Refer clients who have coexisting alcohol or other substance abuse problems to the appropriate services.

5. Enable them to improve their sexual and reproductive health

Clients with a mental health illness are more likely than the general population to contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The risks also increase when substance abuse is involved. Furthermore, people with severe mental health problems are in greater danger of domestic violence and unintended pregnancies.
Health support professionals can help with these issues by:
● Adopting a non-judgmental approach and treating clients with dignity by handling the matter with discretion.
● Offering easy-to-understand information regarding certain types of activity that may increase the risk of contracting an STI.
● Providing information on local sexual health services and supporting clients who want to access them.

6. Make sure they take their medicine correctly

Studies have shown that approximately 50% of patients with a mental health issue fail to take their medicines correctly. This can have severe consequences, including an increased risk of:
● Physical illness
● Cardiovascular side effects
● Weight gain
● Poor oral hygiene
● Sexual dysfunction
You can avoid or reduce these negative impacts by:
● Asking your clients if they have ever experienced any side effects due to their medication, and if so take the appropriate action.
● Collaborating with pharmacists and other healthcare professionals on issues relating to medicines.
● Advocating on behalf of your clients to help them change their medicines or stop taking them altogether if they have little or no benefits or they produce intolerable side effects.

7. Help protect their dental and oral health

Mental health service users are more likely than the general population to lose their natural teeth and suffer tooth decay. This will in turn have a negative effect on their self-confidence.
As a mental health support worker, you can:
● Ensure your clients have access to essential items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.
● Encourage good oral hygiene practice, such as brushing twice a day.
● Encourage clients to reduce their intake of sugary food and drink.