Anyone who receives bad news may feel sad and discouraged, and this is an expected reaction. But what if that bad news can change your life? How do you react when you are diagnosed with cancer or a chronic illness you have to deal with for the rest of your life? Now you’re concerned about the treatments, how to stay healthy, and all of this happening may start to preoccupy you. 

Others find it hard to adapt to the new reality of the chronic physical condition and cope with the changes. As the quality of life starts to change, physical health is at stake, and there is an ongoing battle with mental health as well. In this post, you’ll recognize the correlation between chronic diseases and mental health. For persons with a health condition and to the family and friends, read up and know how to deal with the situation at hand. 

Chronic diseases are defined as conditions that last for one year or more. It requires ongoing medical treatment and may limit a person’s activities of daily living. Examples of chronic diseases are cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and many more. Studies show that persons with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk of developing depression. 

Also, individuals who recently suffered a stroke or injury leading to limits in mobility may have reduced ability to cope as well. What are the reasons why chronic physical conditions can affect mental health? 

Emotional Loneliness & Isolation

Living with a chronic physical condition may cause feelings of emotional loneliness. There are feelings that nobody understands what you’re going through, or you may not find the emotional support you need. Others may find it hard to reach out for help because they’re trying to appear strong, which increases the risk of depression and anxiety. 

In the case of patients who need hospital admission or needs to stay in bed, the isolation makes them sad. Who would not feel sad if you can’t go out of the house and do the activities you like? 

For instance, amputated diabetic patients have limited movements. They can’t leave the house without assistance; the isolation at home and feeling of helplessness are devastating. Emotional loneliness and isolation are factors that can affect the mental health resilience and coping mechanisms of patients with chronic illness.

Strain In A Relationship

The diagnosis of a chronic illness does not just affect the person but the family members as well. The family members who are the primary caregivers need to accommodate the patient’s health concerns, which may put strains on the relationship. The loved ones may also get exhausted and may experience anxiety concerning the chronic condition. This may also take a toll on the caregiver’s emotional, mental, and physical state. Also, sexual problems may be encountered in the relationship for a spouse with a chronic health condition. 

Financial Problems

Getting treatment for chronic health conditions requires money. For other patients who are unable to work and be financially dependent, they start to use up their savings or rely on the financial assistance of their loved ones. The feeling of not being able to provide for yourself and your family, plus passing the financial burden on your family for your treatment, may take a toll on the mental health. 

Depression And Chronic Illness: Recognizing The Correlation

With the factors mentioned above, depression is the common mental illness suffered by individuals with physical conditions. Other risk factors contributing to depression may also include a family history of depression, chronic pain, stress factors, poor nutrition, certain medications, or another illness. 

For instance, patients with Parkinson’s Disease or who had a recent stroke may have changes in the brain. For some, the changes in the brain may have a direct role in the development of depression. The anxiety related to the illness (e.g.,, feeling anxious about the effectiveness of the treatment) can also trigger the symptoms of depression. 

Mental illness is common in patients who have chronic physical conditions like: 

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Autoimmune diseases (including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis)
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke or heart attack

Some may experience symptoms of depression after the diagnosis of chronic disease. The symptoms may change, either increase or decrease, as the person adjusts to living with the disease. Depending on the person’s resilience, coping, prognosis of the disease, and support received from loved ones, the symptoms of depression may go away on their own or may worsen over time. 

The Physical Health May Worsen If The Mental Health Is Not Addressed

Studies show that a physical ailment may worsen when an existing mental illness is not addressed. In fact, both the physical and mental health condition may have severe symptoms over time. Stress is one of the risk factors that can make a person sick. It can result in physical symptoms like high blood pressure, losing sleep, and changes in sleeping patterns. These are the last things a sick person needs because this may worsen their ailment. This is especially true for health conditions like heart disease. 

However, when mental health is taken care of, there is a higher chance a person recovers or at least controls the outcome of chronic disease. A collaborative approach in taking care of mental and physical health is proven to improve overall health. That is why health care providers create a plan of care for patients not just for their physical comfort but for their emotional and mental wellness as well. 

Signs Of Depression

Self-care is essential, especially when battling a life-threatening medical condition. The first step to taking care of one’s mental health is aware of the signs of depression. Even family members and caregivers should be aware of the signs of depression. Remember that temporary feelings of sadness or to be in shock are expected in individuals with chronic illness. But when feelings of sadness last longer than two weeks and are starting to affect the person’s everyday life, then this is a different story. Depression may affect everyday life, from a relationship with family, 

Temporary feelings of sadness are expected, but if these and other symptoms last longer than a couple of weeks, you may have depression. Depression affects your ability to carry on with daily life and to enjoy family, friends, work, and leisure. The health effects of depression go beyond mood: Depression is a serious medical illness with many symptoms, including physical ones. 

The Signs Of Depression Include: 

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, and helpless 
  • Appears to be in a bad or foul mood all the time
  • Feeling guilty, restless, and easily gets frustrated
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies enjoyed before
  • Decreased energy and appears to be weak
  • May have difficulty in concentrating at work 
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (oversleeping or lacks sleep)
  • Changes in eating patterns (as evidenced by weight gain or weight loss)
  • Aches or pains without unestablished physical caused and did not go away even with treatment
  • Thoughts of death
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

At times, it’s hard to pinpoint if the symptoms experienced are caused by the chronic disease or depression. But what do you have to lose? It’s better to be sure and consult with a therapist or counselor. The good news is, depression is treatable. With the help of a licensed mental health professional, support from the family, and the right mindset, depression may be overcome, and the quality of life may improve.

Young People With Chronic Illness May Experience Depression Too

Depression is experienced by children and adolescents as well. They may act differently compared to adults, but when the everyday activities of a child change, they become sad. Imagine having to battle a medical illness and seeing your peers enjoying their time. Imagine not being able to play just like before, and spend most of your time for hospital check-ups. 

Young people with physical illness may not fully understand the situation and may cope differently, leading to a higher risk of depression. Parents need to recognize any signs of depression or anxiety in their children and make sure to seek the help of a mental health professional right away.

Taking Care Of The Mind And Body

What needs to be done at this point? The goal is to take care of the mind and body. It is important to follow the doctor’s recommendation of the treatment plan. Drink medicines on time, adhere to the medical therapy needed, eat well, sleep right, and take care of your physical health. As you take care of your physical health, take care of your mental health as well. 

Talk to a mental health professional to help your feelings sorted out. As you start to vent out your concerns, a counselor can guide you on how to cope with the illness you’re battling. Your counselor can also give you tips on building your mental resilience and coping with everyday life. 

If you’re from Kentucky or Ohio, you can book an appointment with Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) and enjoy the benefits of online mental health counseling. 

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