It’s difficult to live with a serious health condition. It’s even tougher when you also suffer from a mental health condition. Can your physical health impact your mental health? In other words, can your injury or illness cause anxiety or depression? Yes! Importantly, there is a strong relationship between mental and physical health conditions. In fact, almost 1/3 of people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, most often depression or anxiety. And those with mental health conditions are more likely to develop physical health problems.
Importantly, it’s vital for healthcare providers, patients, and family caregivers to understand the connection between physical health and mental health. By recognizing and addressing the emotional and psychological impact of physical health conditions, patients can improve their overall quality of life, and healthcare providers can offer more comprehensive care.
Interestingly, research shows that treating depression and chronic illness together can help people better manage both their depression and their chronic disease.
How can your physical health impact your mental health?
Unsurprisingly, both acute and chronic physical health conditions can significantly impact your mental health and your social well-being. Importantly, a serious physical health condition can trigger existing mental health issues or cause new mental health conditions.
Perhaps you feel sad or discouraged after a stroke or heart attack. Or maybe you feel overwhelmed by a difficult diagnosis, such as cancer or heart failure. Or maybe you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or life-limiting pain, that makes you feel sad or discouraged.
Clearly, a serious physical health condition can leave you worried about your new reality and your future. And you may have concerns relating to how you will tolerate your treatments, such as chemotherapy or dialysis. And you may be worried about upcoming changes in lifestyle. For instance, you may have to skip the hobbies or activities you once enjoyed. Or you may have to leave your job or get help with household responsibilities.
It’s easy to see how these negative feelings can lead to mental health issues.
What mental health issues can be caused by physical health issues?
There are some common emotional and psychological effects of associated with physical health conditions, including:
Difficulty managing health issues.
Depression can lead to poor self-care, which can lead to excess disability, and increased mortality. For instance, people with diabetes and depression may find it difficult to control their blood sugar, which can lead to worse outcomes and even death.
Acute or chronic physical conditions can make it hard for you to participate in social activities or even leave your house, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Unfortunately, social isolation can further aggravate existing mental health conditions or trigger the onset of new ones. Additionally, research shows that loneliness can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. And older adults who feel socially isolated have an increased risk of dementia.
Additionally, having an acute or chronic condition decreases social support, strains relationships, and makes it hard to maintain your social connections.
Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric problem, impacting over 20 million US adults and children every year. Interestingly, anxiety disorders are often associated with illnesses such as heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high blood pressure, and migraines. However, it’s not always clear which condition came first.
Certainly, you may develop anxiety due to the physical, psychological, and emotional burden of having a serious physical health condition. Things like worrying about what may lie ahead in the future or how your life is changing can cause anxiety in people who have never experienced anxiety before.
But you may also have a medical condition that causes or worsens anxiety. Interestingly, the following medical conditions can cause anxiety:
- Tumors, including brain tumors and adrenal gland tumors.
- Overactive or underactive thyroid.
- Parathyroid or adrenal gland conditions.
- Estrogen fluctuations.
- Lyme disease.
- Untreated Strep infections.
- Guillain-Barre syndrome.
- Vitamin deficiency or overload.
- Poor nutrition.
- Head trauma.
- Alzheimer’s disease.
- Reactions to some over-the-counter and prescription medications, herbal supplements and/or homeopathic remedies.
No matter the origin, research shows that people with physical health problems AND anxiety tend to have worse symptoms and respond less well to treatment. Moreover, patients with both conditions are more likely to have fatal illnesses.
Acute or chronic physical conditions can bring sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. Moreover, the stress and uncertainty of living with a serious physical condition can lead to feelings of helplessness and misery.
Of course, it’s not surprising to have temporary feelings of sadness when you receive a difficult diagnosis and/or you have a serious chronic physical condition. Fortunately, your symptoms may decrease as you adjust to and/or treat your physical condition. But if sadness and other symptoms last longer than a couple of weeks, you may have depression. Depression can make it hard to carry on with daily life and to enjoy your family, friends, work, and leisure activities.
Importantly, depression is a serious medical illness with many symptoms, including physical ones. Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
- Feeling hopeless or pessimistic.
- Feeling irritable, easily frustrated‚ or restless.
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities.
- Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling “slowed down”.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
- Changes in appetite or weight.
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease even with treatment.
- Suicide attempts or thoughts of death or suicide.
Unfortunately, research suggests that patients with depression and another physical health condition tend to have more severe symptoms of both illnesses. In these situations, patients may have a harder time adapting to their medical condition, and they may have higher medical costs, compared to patients who do not have both depression and a medical illness. Moreover, symptoms of depression may continue even as a patient’s physical health improves.
Which patients have an increased risk for depression?
Importantly, people with a personal or family history of depression, or those with a family member who has taken their own life, have an increased risk of depression.
However, some illnesses increase the risk of depression. For instance, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke cause changes in the brain. And in some cases, these changes can have a direct role in depression. Additionally, anxiety and stress related to having a serious illness can trigger symptoms of depression.
Depression is common among people with the following illnesses:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autoimmune diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis
- Coronary heart disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
Additionally, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat your physical health condition that can trigger depression.
Are you concerned about depression?
If you feel you are depressed, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. Fortunately, therapy and medications can ease symptoms and help you get your depression under control.
If you feel suicidal, call the suicide hotline immediately by dialing 988. Their trained crisis counselors are available 24/7.
It’s important to pay attention to your physical health and your mental health.
Addressing mental health is an essential component of chronic illness management. Yet, the mental health impact of living with an acute or chronic physical health condition is often overlooked.
Firstly, many individuals with acute or chronic physical health conditions may not seek mental health support due to stigma, lack of access to care, or lack of awareness of the importance of addressing mental health.
Secondly, doctors often fail to suggest mental health treatment as part of their overall treatment recommendations after the diagnosis of a physical health condition. For instance, people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes. Yet only 25-50% of people with diabetes who also have depression get diagnosed and treated for their depression.
Sadly, many people who could benefit from mental health services do not receive care. Common barriers to seeking mental health support include:
Stigma and fear.
There is still a significant stigma surrounding mental health issues, leading people to worry about how others will judge them. Additionally, fear keeps many from receiving mental health services, including a fear of unfamiliar care for unfamiliar conditions.
Moreover, cultures and religions may have their own views of mental health, which can discourage members of their community from seeking mental health care.
Lack of access to care.
Many individuals with acute or chronic physical conditions may not have access to mental health resources or may face financial barriers to accessing care. Additionally, it can be very difficult to navigate the “system”, in an effort to receive care.
Lack of awareness.
Some individuals may not understand the connection between chronic illness and mental health, while others may not recognize the signs of a mental health condition.
How can you get mental health support and care?
There are several ways you can get mental health support and care, including:
Talk to your healthcare provider.
Healthcare providers can offer resources and support for maintaining a healthy mental state. If needed, they can also refer you to a mental health professional.
However, if your doctor does not address your mental health concerns, you should speak openly and honestly with them about your concerns. Bringing them into the loop can help them provide more comprehensive care. Keeping details concealed can minimize the effectiveness of your treatments or overall care.
If you need help from a mental health professional, try to find a therapist who understands your particular health condition and the challenges of living with it.
Get mental health help online.
Many online resources are available for mental health support, including virtual therapy sessions. However, not all services provide the same level of quality care. Ask your doctor, family and friends for referrals. Additionally, you can research options online to learn about qualifications and to read reviews.
You can also find self-help resources online, but beware – there is an overwhelming amount of false medical information online. So do your research and proceed with caution.
For more information, read:
- Can you Trust Medical Information Online?
- Can you Trust Medical Information on Facebook? Not Always!
- Can You Trust Advice from Other Patients?
Join a support group.
Joining a support group reduces the feeling of isolation and can provide helpful tips for managing your condition. Search online for a group by typing in the name of your physical condition and the words “support group”. You can also ask your doctor if your local hospital has support group options for you.
Engage in relaxation and stress reduction activities, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and regularly exercising can also improve your mental health.
Build a support system.
Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who understand your condition and can offer emotional support.
It’s essential to take breaks and give yourself time to recharge. For instance, you can take a day off from work, take a vacation, get a massage, go to the movies, take a walk with a friend, read a book, exercise, meditate, or do anything else that helps you recharge.
Try to learn more about the connection between physical health conditions and mental health issues. Also, learn the different signs of common mental health conditions so you can identify issues in yourself or a loved one.
An acute or chronic physical condition can significantly impact a person’s mental health, often causing emotional and psychological distress. It’s vital for individuals with an illness or injury to recognize the importance of addressing mental health and to seek support and resources when required.
I wrote this article in partnership with Brian Adams, an experienced healthcare content writer who focuses on psychiatry medical billing services. With a deep understanding of the complex world of healthcare, Brian is dedicated to educating and informing healthcare professionals and patients about the latest trends and policies in this field.