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The Connection Between Mental-Health and Chronic Illness

There's a strong connection between mental health and chronic illnesses. Physical ailments can lead to a depressed mental state. For example, anxiety from an upset stomach or depression after a cancer diagnosis. You may think that improving either one will help the other. However, managing and improving mental health is usually more effective. Read on to learn about the relationship between mental health and chronic illness and how to treat both effectively.


Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash


Chronic Illness Increases the Risk of Developing Mental Health Disorders

People with long-term physical conditions are twice as likely to develop mental health issues, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Some of these conditions include diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis, and epilepsy. Long-term physical conditions are those that can be treated but not cured. Cancer and similar conditions that may be curable or put into remission can also contribute to mental illness.


When struggling with physical health, it can be extremely difficult to stay positive. Patients often experience doubt, uncertainty, anxiety, sadness, and frustration. These feelings can lead to a diagnosis of anxiety or depression. Chronic illness can contribute to mental health struggles on a daily basis.


Some physical conditions may also directly cause certain conditions. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that both Parkinson’s disease and stroke can cause changes in the brain, which can lead to depression. 


Mental Health Impacts Physical Well-Being and Treatment Outcomes

Understanding the connection between physical and mental health is crucial. One can greatly impact the other. Maintaining a positive outlook, although challenging, can affect your mental well-being and how your body responds to treatment. Here's how:


  • Embrace self-compassion: Recognize that limitations don't equate to failure. Acknowledge your efforts, realizing you're doing your best with the resources available, and that's commendable.

  • Allow for grieving: Chronic illness reshapes life, often permanently. It's normal to mourn the life you once envisioned. Permit yourself to experience these emotions— anger or sadness—towards acceptance and a more positive perspective.

  • Embrace small joys: Small, positive moments incorporated into your daily life can temporarily boost mindsets. Engage in activities that bring joy such as connecting with a friend, taking a leisurely walk, practicing yoga, or indulging in a favorite book.


Supportive Care for Mental Health Enhances Overall Quality of Life

Chronic illness and mental health conditions can disrupt your life significantly. Yet, nurturing your mental well-being can remarkably enhance your overall quality of life. How can you achieve this support?

  • Seek solace in support groups: Sharing experiences can alleviate feelings of isolation. Engaging in mental health and chronic illness support groups provides solidarity and insights from those navigating similar journeys.

  • Embrace social connections: Despite the urge to withdraw during challenging times, maintaining an active social life is crucial. Social interactions bolster resilience, enhance self-esteem, reduce mental health stigma, and elevate overall life satisfaction.

  • Prioritize activity within your capacity: Managing pain, fatigue, and other symptoms while combating depression or anxiety can be taxing. Instead of giving up on an activity, set feasible goals. Seek accommodations at home or work that fosters a sense of purpose and achievement.


Managing Mental Health Aids in Managing Chronic Illness

When you manage your mental health, use supportive care methods, and remain as optimistic as possible, it also benefits your chronic illness. The better your mood is, the more manageable your pain and other physical symptoms may feel. Improved mental health can also make it easier to adapt to your new circumstances.


Some ways to manage your mental health include: 

  • Therapy: Speaking regularly with a therapist trained to address both your mental health conditions and chronic illnesses can be very beneficial. They can help you explore and understand your feelings and thoughts, as well as provide you with tools to manage them. 

  • Medication: Antidepressants or other medications used for certain mental health conditions can dramatically improve your quality of life. With a boost to your mental health, you'll feel stronger and better able to deal with your physical health. 

  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapists may be able to help you adapt your daily routine. They also often assist with workplace modifications and mobility aids, if needed. 


Integrated Approach to Healthcare for Better Patient Outcomes

Integrated healthcare, or interprofessional healthcare, offers better patient outcomes. When your healthcare providers collaborate to treat your biological, mental, physical, and social needs, your overall health and life satisfaction benefit. 


An integrated healthcare approach: 

  • Prevents prescription overlaps that may increase the risk of mental health issues

  • Keeps all providers in the loop about physical and mental symptoms

  • Reduces symptoms of depression

  • Ensures access to providers and services necessary

  • Generally improves the quality of care you receive


The Healthy Takeaway

Addressing mental health is crucial when it comes to managing chronic physical conditions. It's also essential to acknowledge there's a distinct connection between the two. This connection is profound and multidimensional, requiring a collaborative and holistic approach. Integrating mental health care into chronic illness treatment plans helps ensure better outcomes and an improved quality of life.


There's so much more to learn about physical and mental health. Be sure to check out the ActiveFit+ health and wellness blog.

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