The complex relationship of physical and mental disorders

Portrait of Birit Broekman

Our life expectancy has increased by as much as 35 years over the past century and a half. With these extra years, we also face more physical and mental illnesses. Psychiatrist Birit Broekman wants to better understand and address the complex relationship between physical and mental health. “Physical and mental disorders often go hand in hand. As many as half of all hospital patients struggle with both physical and mental disorders. Often the mental disorders are insufficiently (h)recognized or treated.” Birit Broekman delivered her inaugural lecture as endowed professor of Hospital Psychiatry on Friday, September 8, 2023.

The relationship between physical and mental disorders is complex. Several systems in our bodies, such as the stress system and sex hormones, affect both physical and mental processes simultaneously. Broekman is researching the influence of sex hormones on sleep and mood. Interestingly, women are twice as likely to be affected by depression compared to men. And that risk increases even further around pregnancy and menopause. New research by Broekman suggests that fluctuations in sex hormones may not only affect mood directly, but also indirectly through their effect on sleep. “We see indications of the influence of sex hormones on our sleep-wake rhythm and quality of sleep. This is interesting since sleep problems, such as insomnia, is a known risk factor for depression but also for physical symptoms.”

The full article (in Dutch) was published at Amsterdam UMC.