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Intimacy and Mental Health: The Connection

intimate couple

Intimacy and Mental Health: The Connection


Just as much as we express affection outwards, we need to feel loved as well. In fact, intimacy is one of our greatest needs as humans. 

The Importance of Intimacy

Intimacy refers to a feeling of closeness with another person. This individual can be a very dear friend, family member, or a sexual partner. Intimacy can be emotional -- being able to share your deepest feelings with that person -- or physical -- through actions like hugs and sex.

For most adults, intimacy forms an integral part of our lives. Whether expressed emotionally or physically with those closest to you, love and intimacy can bring great meaning and pleasure to a person's life.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets to enjoy this. More than 20% of us will battle with at least one mental illness at some point. And if you or your partner has a mental disorder, chances are your intimacy may suffer.

But does struggling with mental illness like anxiety and depression means you can't enjoy intimacy? Absolutely not! It's a matter of being informed.

The Connection between Intimacy and Mental Health

The connection between intimacy and mental health is two-directional.

You see, a healthy intimate interpersonal relationship helps to build better mental health. Having someone you can freely interact with and confide in gives you a sense of support.

Additionally, the intimacy such relationships offer helps to fight some disorders like depression. Feelings of hopelessness and loneliness tend to get obscure the more secure you feel in someone else's presence.

So if you or your partner currently struggles with mental health issues, intimacy can help.

But the problem is that mental disorders also negatively affect the quality of intimacy. Love and sex are all a state of mind. When you feel hopeless, anxious, or stressed, expressing or accepting love becomes difficult. You may not even feel like making love.

Something else is filling up your mind and you're struggling; intimacy becomes the last thing you're thinking of.

But at the same time, it's precisely what you need.

How It Works and What to Do

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is one founded on trust and compassion. It's about sharing feelings and fears with someone in hopes of finding guidance, support, or just a listening ear. Everyone battling a mental disorder needs emotional intimacy in their journey to recovery.

But some mental disorders and past experiences can cause intimacy avoidance. Fear of criticism and a history of abuse can make someone shy away from building close relationships. Depressed individuals also tend to withdraw from friends and family.

But all of these can further worsen the mental condition.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, many things can help. One of the best things to do is to seek help from an Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse who can offer an appropriate treatment plan that may include prescription medicines. Some lifestyle changes may also help: get more sleep, go out more often, and eat healthier foods.

Physical Intimacy

Humans naturally crave physical connection, such as hugs, kisses, and sex. Such signs of affection can boost oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin -- the happy hormones -- which actually improve your mental health.

Sadly, some mental health prescription medicines you take may mess with your libido. You find yourself losing interest in any form of physical intimacy, getting more distant from your partner. The worst part about this is that it doesn't only affect you but it hurts your partner and relationship as well.

Rather than stop the medication and further compromising your health, discuss with your doctor on finding the right balance.

Effects of Lack of Physical Intimacy in a Relationship

Although sex isn't the defining factor of a successful relationship, lack of physical intimacy in the form of sex can lead to feelings of isolation, abandonment, broken communication, infidelity, and lower self esteem, which can all impact mental health and the relationship as a whole. A void is created because of the lack of that primal need: physical connection.

The Bottom Line

Intimacy is what makes life worth living. Stay connected. It helps you pull through the darkest times. No matter what, never let go.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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