What You Need to Know About Mental Health and Chronic Illness

Mental health has often been an overlooked part of diagnosing chronic illness, but why?

The daily psychological challenges caused by cancer, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension are real, and there’s research backing that up. Six out of every 10 American adults have a chronic condition, and every four in 10 have two or more of these potentially debilitating diseases. However, some aren’t as outwardly diagnosable as others – like fibromyalgia, Chron’s disease, lupus, or chronic fatigue syndrome (or myalgic encephalomyelitis).

Despite how common chronic illnesses are, they’re often called “invisible illnesses” because of how it’s sometimes difficult to track symptoms or create treatment plans. While someone might be in severe physical or mental pain, it likely won’t be visible to an untrained eye. It’s typically around six to seven years from when someone notices symptoms to getting an official diagnosis.

By no surprise, this takes a toll on someone’s mental health and well-being. Statistics from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show a high prevalence of depression in the following conditions:
Parkinson’s Disease – 51%
Cancer (all types) – 42%
Diabetes – 27%
Cerebrovascular Disease – 23%
Cardiovascular Disease – 17%
Alzheimer’s Disease – 11%

That’s why recognizing these needs is essential for comprehensive healthcare. Neglecting mental health concerns can impede treatment outcomes, worsen physical symptoms, and diminish overall functioning. So, what do you need to know as you navigate mental and chronic illness?

Let’s start by defining chronic illness.

What is Chronic Illness?

Chronic illnesses are long-term health conditions that continue over an extended period, from months to years. Unlike other illnesses that may resolve more quickly, they often require ongoing management and treatment. The need for continual care and support, which depends on their severity and impact on daily life, often presents a major challenge and might require a big lifestyle adjustment.

Why do Chronically Ill People Experience More Mental Health Challenges?

Living with a chronic illness can take a toll on a person’s mental health in various ways. The constant management of symptoms, medical appointments, and treatment plans often leads to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Coping with the uncertainty of a chronic condition and its potential impact on daily life can make psychological distress even worse. Adjusting to this altered reality might bring on stress, anxiety, or an overwhelming sense of confusion. The social and emotional impact of living with a chronic illness, such as isolation and frustration, make the mental health challenges even more difficult.

The physical symptoms of chronic illness, including pain and fatigue, can disrupt sleep patterns, impair cognitive function, and decrease overall quality of life. These factors often contribute to the development or continuation of mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

But while temporary feelings of sadness are normal, symptoms lasting longer than a couple of weeks could indicate a more significant level of depression. It impacts mood and disrupts a person’s ability to function – plus, it makes it harder to find joy in pleasure from usual activities, affecting relationships, work duties, and hobbies. Other symptoms of depression include:

Don’t let the depth of these symptoms worry you. Despite the impact of chronic illness, most people lead fulfilling lives as long as they effectively manage their conditions and seek support from a healthcare team.

The mind-body connection, the interconnectedness of our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes, explains the intersection between mental health and chronic illness. Like when mental health issues are left untreated and worsen the chronic condition, challenges with managing physical symptoms have the same impact on mental health. This reciprocal relationship also exists when either condition improves.

By addressing mental health concerns alongside chronic conditions, you can enhance your overall health and quality of life.

Medication Management as Part of Your Treatment Plan

Living with a chronic health condition isn’t easy, and we know that. At Balance Psychiatric Services, we’re here to help you navigate finding an accurate diagnosis and exploring effective and personalized medication management – along with other treatment options. Our team of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners understands the complexities of managing everything related to your chronic illness while prioritizing mental health and well-being. Whether you’re struggling with the emotional toll of your condition, experiencing difficulties in daily functioning, or seeking support to enhance your overall quality of life, we’re committed to providing compassionate, holistic care and empowering you on your journey towards healing and resilience.