The Impact of Mental Health on Chronic Conditions

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The bonds between mental health and physical health are closely tied. Those with one or more chronic conditions face challenges with their physical health but also with their mind. The management of long-lasting medical conditions introduces challenges and barriers that can quickly impact the state of one’s mental health, even for those that feel they are the most prepared. Why is it that the tie between chronic conditions and mental health are so intertwined, with what conditions is this most common, and how can patients cope?

The Relationship Between Mental Health and Chronic Conditions

While often viewed as separate things, the mind and body are actually intertwined. Our minds are a part of our body and vice versa, which makes it easy for one to impact the other. Mental health conditions like depression often have physical symptoms like fatigue, increased pain, sleep disruption, and more. Chronic conditions can impact someone’s mental health because of the realities people face as a result of their condition. Physical symptoms, like pain or sickness, as well as changes to one’s daily life, can trigger depressive episodes.

Not only this, but the symptoms of chronic conditions and depression can sometimes overlap, making them difficult for a physician to differentiate. Are the symptoms caused by clinical depression, or are they symptoms of the condition?

Common Symptoms of Depression that Often Overlap with Chronic Conditions

According to Cleveland Clinic, common symptoms of depression include:

  • Depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • Sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or not being able to sleep).
  • Problems with concentration.
  • Apathy (lack of feeling or emotion).
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Symptoms like these can also appear among common chronic illnesses.

Chronic Conditions That Commonly Lead to Depression

The list of chronic conditions that can lead to depression is long. According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the following conditions are among the most common that can lead to depression.

  • Diabetes Patients – Individuals with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to experience depression than those without.
  • Cerebrovascular Patients – 23% of cerebrovascular patients experience depression.
  • Cancer Patients – 42% of patients with cancer experience depression.
  • Cardiovascular Patients – 17% of cardiovascular patients experience depression.
  • Parkinson’s Patients – 51% of Parkinson’s patients experience depression.

Why Do Some Chronic Conditions So Often Lead to Depression?

It can be difficult to find one single set of reasons that chronic illness can result in depression. Some of the most common reasons for that long-term illness can lead to clinical depression include:

  • Coping with Illness – Long-term illnesses that do not have a clear end (or an end at all) can be difficult to cope with. It can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate something challenging that may not ever end. This reality can be difficult for many to manage, often leading to depression.
  • Increased Stress – Managing all of what goes into seeking care for chronic illness can increase the amount of stress an individual feels from day to day.
  • Pain – For chronic conditions that relate to pain, mental and emotional health can be especially challenging to maintain.

The list doesn’t end there. With physical, mental, and emotional health being so intertwined, the symptoms of depression and chronic illness can consistently impact the other.

How to Cope with the Realities of Chronic Illness

Coping with chronic illness and depression may be challenging, but it is an important component of one’s care. In order to cope more effectively with a long-term illness and decrease the likelihood of depression, one should:

  1. Seek help from a mental health professional
  2. Communicate with your care team
  3. Create a plan with your healthcare provider
  4. Closely monitor symptoms
  5. If the symptoms of depression appear, bring them to the attention of your providers as soon as possible so you can get the help and attention you need.

The Importance of Accessible Mental Health Care Alongside Medical Care

Access to care is one of the most common barriers that individuals face when in need of mental health services. Lack of access to mental health care prevents those with chronic conditions from being able to receive the care they need to cope with their physical and mental state. Some of the most common barriers to care include:

  • Transportation – The inability to transport one’s self to and from appointments with a care provider.
  • Lack of Coverage – The lack of insurance coverage when it comes to mental health services
  • Lack of Providers in their Area – Providers being too far away or someone to be able to access them in a reasonable time frame.
  • Stigma – The negative attitude toward mental healthcare or conditions.

Several things need to happen in order to decrease barriers to mental health care. One of the best tools providers can use to increase access to care is to implement a quality telehealth solution. Telehealth breaks down barriers like transportation and location, making it easy to access a provider online. With a tool like this, providers can bridge the gap between behavioral health patients and providers in a way that is easy to use. For patients with chronic conditions, telehealth is an incredible option that can help them cope with their physical health while working to improve their mental and emotional health.

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