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Queen Latifah: “We have to make our health as much of a priority as anything else.” Getty Images

The connection between physical and mental health is an important one.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Queen Latifah couldn’t agree more.

That’s why the iconic celebrity has partnered with Cigna as a spokesperson for its Go. Know. Take Control campaign to help get the word out about the connection between emotional and physical health.

“I wanted to get involved with [this] because a lot of us don’t address our physical and mental/emotional health together,” Latifah told Healthline. “People struggle with opening up and being honest about emotional or mental things that are going on.”

She added, “But it’s important to talk about it because you can’t do anything about it unless you start to discuss it and are able to receive the help you need.”

The campaign encourages people to schedule annual checkups, even when they’re not feeling physically sick.

“The thing is, we can’t see what’s going on inside of our bodies the way you can see what’s happening outside. You might spend a lot of time fixing your hair, fixing your makeup, or fixing your clothes because you can see what’s going on with these. But you can’t really see what’s going on inside of your body, and some things you can’t feel,” said Latifah.

She pointed out the importance of annual physical exams and the role they play in good preventative care. They can help doctors recognize and treat potential problems before they become a bigger health issue.

“We have to get our physical exams because our doctors can do yearly blood work [and may discover] a number that is not where it should be,” Latifah said.

As part of its campaign, Cigna is traveling the country and visiting local communities to deliver free health screenings for four key numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI).

For Latifah, this aspect of the campaign is particularly close to her heart. Knowing these four biometric numbers can help prevent heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, three conditions that affect African-American women more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In fact, the CDC reports that around 7.6 percent of African-American women have heart disease, compared to 5.8 percent of white women, and 5.6 percent of Mexican-American women.

Furthermore, the American Heart Association states the following:

  • Cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 50,000 African-American women annually.
  • Of African-American women ages 20 and older, 49 percent have heart diseases.
  • Only 1 in 5 African-American women believes she is personally at risk.

African-Americans are also almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites, according to the Office of Minority Health (OMH).

Additionally, they are more likely to experience diabetes complications, such as end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations.

As a part of its free screenings throughout the country, Cigna will also have health coaches on site to answer questions and offer recommendations for managing your health.

“You can find out your numbers and take that information to your doctor when you go for your annual checkups,” Latifah said.

When it comes to mental health, people of color are currently affected in greater numbers.

OMH states that African-Americans are 10 percent more likely to report experiencing serious psychological distress than white people, with African-American women reporting higher rates of feeling:

  • sadness
  • hopelessness
  • worthlessness
  • a sense that everything is an effort

“We’re dealing with so much sometimes, as African-American women, that we feel like we don’t have the time to stop and take care of ourselves because we have so many other things to take care of,” Latifah said. “The truth is, if we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of everyone else properly. We have to make our health as much of a priority as anything else.”

Latifah says she’s seen the consequences of loved ones neglecting physical and mental complications in hopes of handling them alone.

She also pointed out that she’s seen others “reach out and get help, and I’ve seen the difference that can make, and how they wished they had done it a lot sooner.”

She hopes campaigns like Cigna’s can help create positive change for black women and improve “whole body” health for everyone.

“As a woman of color raised by a woman of color… we’ve already had enough uphill battles with so many disparities in other ways. So the more we can do to help ourselves, the better. Once we start taking our health seriously and making it something that we just have to do, we’ll be [all the] better.”

Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.