Anyone who receives bad news may feel sad and discouraged, which 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 and how to stay healthy, and all of this happening may start to preoccupy you. Some 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 and physical health is at stake, a mental health battle may also ensue.

This post will help you recognize the connection between chronic diseases and mental health. If you have a health condition or a family member or friend with a chronic disease, read up and know how to deal with the situation. 

What Is the Link Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health?

Chronic diseases are defined as conditions that last for one year or more. They require 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.

In addition, individuals who recently suffered a stroke or injury leading to limitations in mobility may also have reduced coping ability. What are the reasons why chronic physical conditions can affect mental health? 

1. Emotional Loneliness and Isolation

Living with a chronic physical condition may cause feelings of loneliness. There are feelings that nobody understands what you’re going through, or you may not find the emotional support you need. Some 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 need to stay in bed, the isolation makes them sad. Who would not feel sad if you couldn’t go out of the house and do the activities you like?

A similar example would be amputated diabetic patients with limited mobility. They can’t leave the house without assistance, and they might find the isolation at home and the feeling of helplessness devastating. Emotional loneliness and isolation are factors that can affect the mental health resilience and coping mechanisms of patients with chronic illness.

2. Strain in Relationships

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 strain the relationship.

The loved ones may also get exhausted and experience anxiety about their family member’s chronic condition. This may also affect the caregiver’s emotional, mental, and physical state. Also, sexual problems may be encountered in the relationship of a spouse with a chronic health condition.

3. 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 your mental health. 

The Depression and Chronic Illness Connection

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

For instance, patients with Parkinson’s disease or who had a recent stroke may have changes in their 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 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
  • 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, the 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.

Physical Health May Worsen If 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, sleep loss, and changes in sleeping patterns. These are the last things a sick person needs because these may worsen their ailment. This is especially true for health conditions like heart disease.

However, when mental health is taken care of, a person is more likely to recover or at least control the outcome of chronic disease. A collaborative approach to 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 also for their emotional and mental wellness.

Signs of Depression to Look Out for If You Have a Chronic Illness

Self-care is essential, especially when battling a life-threatening medical condition. The first step to taking care of one’s mental health is to be 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 shock are expected in individuals with chronic illness. But this is a different story when feelings of sadness last longer than two weeks and start to affect the person’s everyday life. Depression may affect everyday life, including relationships with family members.

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 enjoy family, friends, work, and leisure.

The health effects of depression go beyond mood. It is a serious medical illness with many symptoms, including physical ones. The signs of depression include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, and helpless
  • Appearing to be in a bad or foul mood all the time
  • Feeling guilty, restless, and easily getting frustrated
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies enjoyed before
  • Decreased energy and appears to be weak
  • Difficulty concentrating at work or school
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (oversleeping or lacking sleep)
  • Changes in eating patterns (as evidenced by weight gain or weight loss)
  • Aches or pains without an established physical cause that 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. This is why it’s better to be sure and consult with a therapist or counselor.

The good news is that 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 quality of life may also 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 spending most of your time on 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

The goal at this point is to take care of the mind and body. It is important to follow the doctor’s recommendation or treatment plan. Drink medicine 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 you sort out your feelings. As you start venting your concerns, a counselor can guide you in coping with the illness you’re battling. Your counselor can also give tips on building 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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