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Chronic Illness and Mental Health: A Link We Mustn't Ignore

mental health matters

Chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer, and heart problems can increase one's chances of developing a mental illness like depression. Of course, it's not uncommon for someone recently diagnosed with some deadly cancer to fall into deep sadness or depression.

Chronic diseases are usually long-lasting and hardly ever go away completely. This life-long pain and debilitating experience often cause sadness and frustration in the patient, and they may feel guilty and worthless for being a burden to their loved ones.

Unfortunately, this can pave the way for depression and other mental health disorders. But there are also risk factors of mental illness that are directly related with certain chronic conditions.

For example, Parkinson's disease and stroke can cause changes in the brain in such a manner that paves the way for depression.

Chronic illnesses commonly linked with depression include:

A Bi-Lateral Relationship between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Just as a diabetic patient may fall into depression, someone with a mental illness may overeat, stay less active, and care less for their physical health, increasing their risk of developing a chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.

Studies also show that serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can increase one's risk of heart disease, even at a young age.

Major Chronic Diseases and Their Associated Psychiatric Disorders

Diabetes and Mental Health

People with diabetes are two times more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness than those without.

Notably, mental issues such as depression and schizophrenia impair the body's resistance to insulin, leading to type 2 diabetes.

On the other hand, people living with diabetes are at risk of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders because they're always worried about what to eat and what not to. This can be quite stressful. Even the changes in their blood sugar can trigger mood changes and fatigue. In addition, patients need to spend money on care and doctor's appointments. These burdens can lead to anxiety and extended feelings of hopelessness.

Cardiovascular Diseases and Mental Health

The connection between heart disease and mental health is two-directional. People with heart diseases are three times more likely to develop depression.

Depression is often diagnosed soon after a stroke. It can also make recovering after a heart attack more challenging by intensifying the pain. However, it's not a one-way relationship.

Smoking and alcohol use are leading risk factors for heart disease. Interestingly, alcohol and tobacco use are more prevalent among people with mental illness. While using these substances to feel better, patients predispose themselves to heart diseases.

Healthy lifestyle choices like physical exercise and proper diet can benefit people with either of these conditions.

Chronic Respiratory Disease and Psychiatric Disorder

People living with mental diseases are likely to smoke, which predisposes them to respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, and asthma.

In short, about 75% of people with severe OCPD also live with anxiety or depression.

People with asthma are likely to get panic disorders and anxiety as they worry over sudden asthmatic attacks.

Cancer and Mental Health

Cancer is incurable and sometimes deadly. As a result, some people living with cancer may lose all hope in life and fall into major depression. Statistics show that about 8-24% of cancer patients also experience depression.

In reverse, people with schizophrenia have been found to have twice the risk of developing gallbladder and bowel cancers. These two diseases are often a result of the patient's diet.

Why This Information Matters

Many symptoms are common with both mental illness and chronic diseases, and it becomes difficult to tell them apart. For example, a person battling depression may experience fatigue, loss of appetite, and insomnia. Someone with diabetes or heart disease may also experience something very similar.

When you treat only one condition, unaware of the existence of the, the latter may spiral out of hand quickly and render treatment less effective.

If you or your loved one lives with a chronic disease, you don't want to neglect your mental health. You can seek therapy while being treated for your chronic condition, and this can save a life. Of course, mortality increases when mental illness coexists with a chronic disease.

If you're currently facing a mental health challenge, I can help access the situation to know the treatment option that's best for you, whether medication, therapy, or both. Get in touch now, and I'll be only to happy to help.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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