Research shows a definite correlation between chronic illness and one’s mental health. A recent study of cancer patients, for example, found that one in five developed post-traumatic stress after their diagnosis, which was similar (15-35 percent) to those with chronic pain. Having chronic pain or illness isn’t only a matter of feeling sad that you no longer are able to do many of the things you could do before your diagnosis, it also has to do with how pain and illness affect the workings of your body and how that pain or illness is treated. Here’s how chronic illness can affect your mental health.
Any health problem that causes inflammation can increase one’s risk of depression –especially since depression is associated with inflammation of the brain. And then there’s the matter of increased stress due to chronic illness. When you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness, you may feel a range of emotions including shock, anger, fear and grief. You may also feel misunderstood by those who aren’t experiencing the same problems or limitations as you, or by those who believe your pain is exaggerated or psychosomatic. Your feelings are valid and expected, but they still can add to your level of psychological stress.
Chronic stress and illness can cause the body to generate fewer neurons and more myelin-producing cells – this affected the hippocampus, the part of your brain that regulates your emotions and is associated with emotional disorders. It is believed that is why people under chronic stress are more likely to develop mood disorders and suffer from anxiety and/or other mental health issues.
When your illness precludes you from activities you love or make it difficult to work, it can take a toll on you emotionally. You may choose to not leave your home, avoid certain social situations as well as the people you love. Your chronic illness may force you to leave your job or modify your responsibilities. Chronic illness can also affect your financial situation, which is a leading cause of depression.
It’s not always a disease that affects your mental health, but rather the medication you may be prescribed to treat your chronic illness. If the medications you are taking to treat your chronic illness are affecting your mental health, tell your doctor; he may be able to prescribe something different or alter your dosage. Some medications whose side-effects can impact your mental health are:
- Beta-blockers, prescribed to treat high blood pressure, angina, migraines, irregular heartbeat and some types of glaucoma.
- Statins, prescribed to lower cholesterol because cholesterol helps release neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Interferon alfa, which is used to treat hepatitis and cancers such as melanoma.
- Opioids, which are prescribed as pain relievers but alter dopamine and GABA levels.
- Anticonvulsants, prescribed to treat seizures, neuropathy, and fibromyalgia.
- Corticosteroids, prescribed to treat lupus, neurological disorders, gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Stimulants, prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and fatigue, alter dopamine levels, which can lead to depression.
If your chronic illness is starting to take its toll on your mental health, causing irritability, anxiety or depression, you may benefit from supplemental psychiatric therapy. At Lynx Healthcare, we not only treat injuries and illness that can lead to chronic pain, we have specially trained therapists who can help you navigate your emotional journey for total wellness.
To make an appointment at one of the Lynx Healthcare clinics in Oregon, Yakima, Tri-Cities, or Goldendale, call us at (509) 591-0070, or contact our Spokane clinic at (509) 321-4575. We look forward to helping you improve both your body and your mind to lead a more enjoyable life.