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Physiotherapy essential to post-COVID mental health care

Physiotherary mental health COVID
Photo: Physiotherapy essential to post-COVID mental health care
Providing multidisciplinary care to Australians living with complex mental health conditions is critical to achieving optimal outcomes, particularly in the aftermath of COVID-19, according to the Australian Physiotherapy Association.

APA National President, Phil Calvert, said the role of physiotherapy to help manage, treat, educate and motivate, was invaluable.

“It has been widely documented that we are seeing increased rates of mental ill-health as a result of COVID-19 due to the economic impacts of unemployment and social isolation,” said Mr Calvert.

“Given the significant comorbidities often associated with poor mental health, it makes sense that a multidisciplinary health team is utilised to support Australians living with these conditions.”

The benefits of physiotherapy in relation to mental health aren’t widely understood, with many people unaware of the relationship between physical and mental health.
“Which is why people with mental illness have poorer physical health than those who don't have mental health problems,” said Mr Calvert.

“Many people only see physios as providing treatment for backs, necks and sports injuries, without the whole range of expertise in pain management, cardiovascular and neurological conditions, falls prevention, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

“Many clinicians forget, or don't know, that people on certain medications which cause weight gain, are not only at risk of developing metabolic syndrome and diabetes, but also developing leg and back joint pain as well as respiratory distress.

“People with mental illness also have physical bodies which are susceptible to the same medical conditions as people without mental health conditions.

For various reasons - stigma being one - people with mental illness may avoid accessing mainstream health services, therefore missing out on interventions, such as physiotherapy, for some preventable and treatable conditions.”

While awareness of the relationship between physical and mental health is increasing, there has been limited action.

“Lots of talk and repeated studies - but little action beyond measuring a person's weight and stomach circumference, BP and HR,” said Mr Calvert.

“So many health professionals can't see beyond the mental illness to look at the whole person who has pain, arthritis, COPD, Multiple sclerosis etc.

“When I was completing my doctoral thesis, which explored headaches experienced by people with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder, a mental health nurse asked why I was doing this research saying to me, of course people with schizophrenia would get headaches - because they hear voices.

“But there is no pathophysiological reason why this should be the case.

“The research showed the prevalence of migraine and cervicogenic headaches in the population with schizophrenia was the same as for the general population who do not have schizophrenia.

“What the research showed was that the person with schizophrenia was unlikely to be referred anywhere for treatment/management of these headaches.”

Physiotherapy works across multiple areas of health – all of which can impact those with mental illness - so it makes sense for it to be included as a routine mental health service.

“Perhaps more education is still required around the role physios can play in the holistic management of the person with mental health problems,” said Mr Calvert.

“Ignoring a person's physical health means they face a greater challenge to achieve good mental health.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.