What Physical Health Means to Me: Perspectives of People with Mental Illness

Brenda Happell*, Stephanie B. Ewart, Chris Platania-Phung, Julia Bocking, Brett Scholz, Robert Stanton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


There are significant inequalities in physical health and life expectancy between people with and without a mental illness. Understanding perspectives of people with mental illness on personal meanings of physical health is essential to ensuring health services are aligned with consumer understandings, needs, and values. A qualitative exploratory study was undertaken involving focus groups with 31 consumers in The Australian Capital Territory, Australia. Participants were asked: “What does physical health mean to you?” Thematic analysis was applied to interview transcripts. Five themes are discussed, representing different emphases in the meaning of physical health: (1) physical and mental are interconnected, (2) absence of disease, (3) moving the body, (4) struggling for healthy diet, and (5) functioning and participation. Physical pain was a difficulty that arose across these themes. Mental health consumers see physical health as always connected with well-being. Nurses would benefit from been informed by consumer understandings of physical health. In addition, there should be more attention to quality of life measures of people with mental illness as these are more congruent with consumer perspectives on physical health than biomedical measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)934-941
Number of pages8
JournalIssues in Mental Health Nursing
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


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