Chronic illness in any form can have a dramatic effect on both physical and mental well-being. Unfortunately, treatment of chronic disease tends to focus primarily on resolving only physical symptoms. This erroneous practice discounts the fact that chronic illness often disrupts mental wellness to a significant degree. To effectively support mental health, it is essential that we understand and appreciate the impact of chronic illness on the mind and implement the appropriate treatments.
Linking the Physical and Mental
Chronic disease such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Lyme disease are associated with an array of physical problems that make everyday life challenging. Issues such as fatigue, pain, and weakness often accompany these types of illness. However, mental problems including mood irregularities, poor cognitive function, and anxiety are common symptoms as well. Sadly, many people discount the impact of chronic illness on mental wellness despite much research showing a strong connection between the two.
The Chronic Connection
Studies suggests that chronic conditions and psychological disorders may mutually influence the occurrence and severity of each other. Studies confirm that those with a chronic illness are nearly twice as likely to develop psychological issues such as chronic anxiety and depression. Additionally, it has been found that those with depression have a higher risk of developing various chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and stroke. Currently there is not a clear understanding as to how depression influences the occurrence of these conditions. However, experts have identified several mechanisms that may inform the relationship between chronic illness and mental dysfunction.
Depression is perhaps the most common mental issues connected to chronic illness. This makes sense as research clearly shows that chronic disease contributes to the occurrence of depression. Many patients with suffering from one or more chronic illness regularly present or report depression-like symptoms – learn more about depression warning signs here. It is estimated that one third of people with a chronic condition exhibit signs of depression. This is particularly concerning as patients who suffer from depression in addition to another chronic illness usually experience more severe symptoms of both conditions than if they were to have only one of the disorders.
Certain chronic disorders fundamentally change how the brain acts. This change to brain function can trigger neurological disruption and prompt the development of mental dysfunction. Such issues may contribute to a decline in bodily function resulting in symptoms such as chronic fatigue, pain, insomnia, or other physical issues. As mental state and physical function declines, the cycle perpetuates resulting in a continued worsening of the condition. Being aware of the initial triggers for this cycle may help you identify a problem and seek appropriate care.
Physical triggers and unfavorable health events can lead to the development of depression or other mental illness. Studies show that individuals who have had a recent cardiac episode or new diagnoses are likely to experience some degree of mental stress. Although this response is expected, if it is maintained for an extended period the patient may develop a more significant or long-lasting mental condition such as depression. This not only detracts from mental health but may also increase the severity of existing conditions.
It is believed that the effect of chronic illness on the hippocampus is one of the primary mechanisms increasing the risk of mental illness. The hippocampus is responsible for regulating mood and is a common component of mental disorders. One study conducted at the University of California, Berkley found that mental and physical stress related to chronic illness contributes to a decline in neuron production and increase of myelin. If these substances fall out of balance, hippocampal function may be negatively affected thereby prompting neurological dysfunction and mood issues.
Some medications used to treat chronic disease can encourage the development of mental health issues. There are many medications that come with side effects such as anxiety, stress, moodiness, malaise, and depression, that can strongly encourage the development of mental health problems. Beta-blockers, statins, interferon alfa, opioids, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and stimulants are some of the most common medications associated with increased rick of developing depression. If your medication is causing notable mental distress, other treatment options may need to be pursued.
Engaging the Mind to Alleviate Physical and Mental Disruptions
Effectively treating depression and other mental illness in the presence of chronic disease often requires attending to the underlying physical condition. In most cases of chronic illness, this requires a patient-specific and system-wide approach. Such treatment typically involves optimization of individual systems throughout the body using a variety of medications, therapies, and treatment protocols catered to individual patient needs. In addition to physical optimizations of the body, patients may benefit greatly from psychological support in the form of psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy is the practice of engaging with a person’s feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, to identify and resolve problems areas that may contribute to a decline in wellness. The process of psychotherapy involves guided introspection with the assistance of a licensed therapist. As the patient explores and becomes more comfortable with the various psychological components of themselves, greater mental wellness and subsequent physical health may be achieved.
Restore Physical and Mental Wellness with Effective Care
Mental function and chronic illness have significant influence on one another. In many cases, individuals who suffer from one often develop the other. Unfortunately, doctors often focus solely on the physical aspects of chronic disease and disregard its serious psychological impact. To effectively restore wellness in the face of chronic illness, it is essential that both the physical and psychological factors be recognized and treated. If you are suffering from a chronic illness or mental disorder such as depression seek out treatment that attends to your specific needs and supports both physical and mental wellness.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to utilize cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to find the answers you deserve and a treatment plan that is personalized to your specific condition. We also understand the powerful impact of psychology on overall wellness and bodily function. If you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, but aren’t receiving support for your mental health, call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you!
1. National Institute of Mental Health. “Chronic Illness & Mental Health.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
2. Web MD. “Dealing With Chronic Illnesses and Depression.” https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/chronic-illnesses-depression#1
3. Martha McLaughlin. “How Does Chronic Illness Affect Mental Health?” The Oaks Treatment Center.