Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reveals the Link Between Mental Health and Longevity
Neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has covered all aspects of health, and reminds people that health isn’t just about what’s going on in your body. On the Men’s Health Instagram Live show Friday Sessions, he focused in on key areas of mental health, including its relationship to longevity and how he takes care of his own mental wellness.
“There’s been so much attention on life span and more recently on health span: the idea that if you’re going to live a longer life, what kind of life is it going to be and what is my body going to be like? But also, what is my mind going to be like?” Dr. Gupta recently told psychiatrist and Men’s Health advisor Drew Ramsey, M.D. on the IGL show.
“What I’ve been fascinated by recently is, does our capacity for joy, capacity for happiness, change?” Dr. Gupta said. He wondered whether that capacity is less sizeable as you get older, and whether you have less space for happiness and enjoying your life. “What I found is the answer to that really seems to be no,” he said.
The conversations have been “inspiring,” Dr. Gupta said. He’s found that overall, “the capacity for joy” doesn’t decrease as you get older. However, too often, people think of mental health and physical health as “different buckets,” but they’re deeply connected, he said.
Dr. Gupta also discussed how the stigma around men’s mental health is changing, and how he’s learned to cope during tough times.
We Can’t Blow Off Mental Health
As a journalist, Dr. Gupta has covered conflicts, natural disasters, and “heartbreaking” topics. He said the famine in Somalia was one of the hardest topics that he’s covered, and he sought mental health treatment after the experience.
“It made me lose hope for a while,” he said. “I was waking up a lot in the middle of the night. I did seek help for that. It manifested in all these different ways. I had these dreams about people who were born and then died and they were never remembered.”
While mental health treatment can still come with a stigma, Dr. Gupta said he’s seen significant changes and acceptance of it, and credits high-profile men, like Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman, for sharing their mental health struggles.
“I don’t want to sound Pollyannish about this, but I think it’s starting to change,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that it’s a win-win for everybody. If you can get help and you have more joy and more happiness, you have less depression (whatever it might be), you’re going to be a better colleague, better husband, better wife, better friend. And, that’s beneficial for everyone.”
Tough Times Help You Re-evaluate
“It’s interesting because when you have really intense periods in your life like that, it forces you to find the things that really do bring you joy, bring you some happiness,” he said. For him, that’s engaging with others, playing the accordion, and staying active.
During the pandemic, he said he began valuing relationships in a new way. Now, he makes more of an effort to connect with others.
“I really thought of friendships as a luxury, as a frivolity, not as a necessity,” he said. “But I think once I wasn’t able to have contact with people as much, I realized how important it was just to spend time with people.”
The past couple of years also gave him a chance to spend more quality time with his three teenage daughters. “We just had these really good conversations face to face, and that was something that helped insulate me against some of the darkness,” Dr. Gupta said.
Listening to what’s truly going on with your children “makes for a really joyous, wonderful relationship,” he added. “That’s lifelong. And also, you’re going to learn stuff because what’s happening now in the world for our kids is very different than what we experienced. And, we can’t know all of that. So the best way to learn is to listen.