A lot of things can impact your mental health but a big one is chronic health conditions. A Chronic health condition is anything that can be defined as lasting over a year and requires ongoing treatment and/or limits your daily activities. Examples of chronic health conditions include things like diabetes, mental illness, consistent pain, skin conditions like eczema, asthma, and allergies. It is estimated that half of all Australians have at least one chronic health condition with many having multiple (the chances of which increase as people age).
Of course, there is a wide range of chronic conditions, and some chronic conditions aren’t likely to impact you as severely as others. It can become second nature to someone with asthma to make sure that they have their inhaler on them or take a preventer twice a day to manage it. But for other people they made need to make major lifestyle changes from injecting yourself daily if you have diabetes to having to take multiple medications at particular times and do physical therapy if you have Cystic Fibrosis. We also need to look at the fact that not everyone with a chronic condition will be impacted the same and that there is a sliding scale of severity for many conditions. For someone they might have an easy way to manage to their condition but there could be someone else with the exact same condition, but they are unable to find a treatment that will work for them.
For some people chronic conditions can’t be diagnosed, or they aren’t well known which can make it harder on the person. Then you have the conditions that are treated as being temporary but then become permanent or a condition where there are wide range of things that can cause it, for example, experiencing dizziness. This a common symptom of a variety of issues and can be anything from low iron to a reaction from a medication to a vestibular (inner ear) issue. Because of these factors it can take a long time to find a cause for the dizziness. With for many it will be temporary and will be an easy fix such as switching medications or doing physio. However, for a few people it will require ongoing management such as if you are diagnosed with Vestibular Migraines or Meniere’s Disease. Then under that same umbrella you have people with dizziness that won’t have an easy diagnosis and it can be years to get answers. All the while riding a rollercoaster of emotions of getting their hopes up that a cause will be found and that it won’t be permanent, and that there will be straightforward cure/treatment. This can be applied to many conditions, from pain that has no real cause to stomach issues that appear without rhyme or reason.
When you first get diagnosed with a chronic condition it is understandable to go through the stages of grief, because you are grieving for a life that isn’t what you were expecting, and the diagnosis will have an impact on various decisions moving forward. You are grieving a life that was straightforward, but it will now be filled with regular medical appointments, making sure you get scripts filled and you have specific medications on hand just in case, a life where you might not be able to the things you love to do and that you might have physical limitations. Compare this to having a cold or flu something you know you will get better from and it’s easy to see why having a chronic illness can have a such an impact on someone’s mental health.
There are many factors that can contribute to increasing the risk of mental illness if you have a chronic condition these can include:
- Making major lifestyle changes – from changing your diet, increasing, or decreasing exercise and regular medical appointments which take up time.
- Needing to be dependent on people – if the chronic condition affects you physically you may need to give up some independence and need to rely on people to help.
- Financial strain – specialists aren’t cheap, and some medications aren’t covered by the government, which can cause anxiety about finances.
- Isolation – having to withdraw from social events because of your condition, not knowing people who have gone through similar things to what you are you are dealing with and finding it hard to relate to people.
- Changing how you do selfcare – for example you may not be able to do a particular type of exercise due to pain or have the energy due to fatigue to spend time with friends.
- Medication side effects – some medications can have negative side effects, and, in some cases, medications can trigger or increase depression.
It’s no wonder that mental illness can go hand in hand with having a chronic condition. This why many medical professionals are now treating mental illness along with the chronic condition from the start - referring them to therapy or prescribing them antidepressants. As they don’t want their patients to suffer mentally which can in turn hinder how they handle and respond to treatment for the chronic condition.
While it is expected for people to feel sad at times when they have a chronic condition it can be easy for that sadness to turn into depression and that’s when you need to seek further treatment. Mental health plays a huge role in how chronic conditions can impact people and a healthy mind will mean that overall treatments can have the best outcomes. If you have a chronic health issue, remember you’re allowed to feel sad but if you find it’s impacting you on the regular there is no shame in seeking professional help.
Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Erin’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.
Coping With Chronic Illnesses and Depression Depression, anxiety and their relationship with chronic diseases: a review of the epidemiology, risk and treatment evidence Co-occurring: Mental Health and Chronic Illness