Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Living with a long-term or chronic illness can be very challenging. Firstly, you have to learn to deal with the effects of the actual condition. Which may include anything from pain or discomfort, to limited mobility or capabilities which can result in the loss of independence. Moreover, the treatment for your condition can make your life difficult, or it may disrupt your usual lifestyle. These things can cause stress and can change the way you live, the way you relate to others, and even the way you see yourself. Clearly, chronic illness and mental health are connected in a way.

Chronic Illness and Mental Health

People who suffer from a chronic illness often also suffer from a mental health disorder that can be treated.

Characteristics of a Chronic Illness

A chronic illness is characterized principally by being long-term, and most chronic illnesses are never fully cured. This can be due to the fact that they have complex causes with many risk factors. To make matters worse, health care professionals often find it difficult to recognize the symptoms at an early stage of the illness which makes the treatment more complicated. Most chronic illnesses can be managed or controlled by lifestyle changes, medication, or other ongoing therapies or treatments. Did you know that chronic illnesses are the main cause of death and disability in the USA?

Common Chronic Illnesses

Many illnesses have a chronic nature and the list below contains some of the most common chronic disorders.

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Osteoporosis

The Link Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Chronic illnesses can cause a great deal of stress which can affect your mental health. You may become over-emotional, isolated, anxious, or lose self-confidence. People with a chronic illness can also suffer from depression and many people have to deal with the symptoms of depression on top of dealing with  their illness. They may feel constantly fatigued and in the end they might lose hope and feel sad or desperate. Moreover, some chronic illnesses, like Parkinson’s disease can actually cause changes in the way your brain functions which can lead to mental health issues. Also, some medications used to treat a chronic condition can trigger mental health issues in certain people.

Can Mental Health Disorders Cause Medical Illness?

A person with untreated mental health issues is more likely to develop a medical illness. The reasons why poor mental health is commonly connected to a lack of personal care are not clear. However, sufferers of mental health disorders frequently do not eat well, do not get enough sleep, and do not seek help for the health related symptoms that they experience. As you can imagine, all of this can lead to the development of a physical illness.

Risk Factors for Mental Health Disorders and Chronic Diseases

Although the reason why only certain people with a chronic illness develop a mental health disorder is unclear. There are, however, certain risk factors which include:

  • A history of mental health problems in the family
  • Age
  • A traumatic experience
  • Stress
  • Alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use
  • Abuse or neglect in childhood
  • A lack of social support
  • Poor eating and exercise habits
  • Environmental and socioeconomic factors

7 Challenges of Dealing with a Chronic Disease

Dealing with a chronic condition comes with many challenges. It is challenging for people who are chronically ill to stay on top of their health and well-being while trying to cope.

Quality of Life

A chronic illness will certainly bring about major changes in your life. It is important for the chronically ill to take advantage of all the opportunities for support and treatment that are available to make things a little easier and to improve their quality of life. 

Chronic Care

Chronic illnesses require long-term care and often involve frequent visits to the doctor or hospital for tests or treatments. On top of this, people dealing with chronic illness have to inform themselves as much as possible about their condition. They also have to constantly maintain clear communication with their health care providers about their changing needs.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can be one of the most debilitating and depressing parts of long-term illnesses. People who suffer from a chronic illness sometimes need to take pain medicine on a daily basis. 

Maintaining Social Relationships

Due to their disrupted routines, and because people who are dealing with a chronic illness don’t always feel like socializing, keeping up friendships, hobbies, and taking excursions their social relationships can take strain. The support of family members and friends can make coping with a chronic condition easier.

Balancing Emotions

People dealing with a long-term illness can feel like it’s an emotional roller-coaster. The trick here is to be aware that your emotions will be disrupted, however, it’s not always easy to balance your emotions.

Long-Term Health Concerns

The uncertainty of how the condition will develop and how it will affect you in the future are very natural concerns. People who are chronically ill often have to join a support group of people who suffer from similar conditions.

Staying Positive

Trying to maintain your normal lifestyle and turning to friends and family for support is not always easy. In the workplace, people often have to tell their boss what is happening. People who are chronically ill have to make a constant effort to stay positive.

Impact of Physical Health on Mental Health

Keeping as physically active as possible, eating healthily, getting enough sleep and generally taking care of yourself are all extremely important when dealing with a chronic condition. If you allow your physical health to deteriorate it can increase your risk for ending up with mental health issues which, in turn, will make living with a chronic condition even harder.

Chronic Illness and the Risk for Mental Health Disorders

Considering all the challenges that people with chronic illness face, it’s no wonder that there’s a connection between chronic illness and mental health. Depression is the most common mental health issue that accompanies chronic illness. Around one-third of all people with a chronic health condition suffer from depression and for some conditions this figure can rise to over fifty percent. All the difficulties of living with a chronic illness can also lead to the development of other mental health conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd), or schizophrenia, among others.

Find a Mental Health Professional Today!

Seeking the help of a qualified mental health professional can help people suffering from chronic illness to lead happier, healthier, and fuller lives. Mental health issues are treatable. So if you have a long-term physical health condition and are experiencing mental health issues you should seek help. Health professionals will be able to prescribe medication (if required) or arrange group support and therapy sessions to help you to cope with your condition. 

Remember to always tell your chosen mental health professional as much as you can about your condition and about how you feel. You should also tell them what medicines and treatments you are receiving, so that they can find the best way to help you to restore your mental health and to improve your quality of life. Early diagnosis and treatment of a mental health issue can help you to continue to enjoy life even with a chronic illness.


author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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