Mental Health

The Link Between Chronic Illnesses & Mental Health

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I thought it would be the perfect time to write this post which I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. A lot of the posts I’ve seen on social media have talked about how we need to treat mental health more seriously and on the same level as physical health however less is said about the link between mental and physical health.

Having a mental health condition can cause physical symptoms including; digestive issues, weight gain/loss, reduced energy and chronic pain. This is on top of the actual mental illness, all in all it is very draining.

However, having a chronic health condition can often lead to MH conditions such as anxiety and depression. It is often overlooked and ignored when going through diagnosis of chronic health conditions.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 30% of the UK have a long term chronic illness. Those who have a chronic illness are also two to three times more likely to develop a mental health condition.

Why are you more likely to develop mental health problems with a chronic illness?

Having a chronic illness is hard, whatever condition you have. They’re life changing and are usually going to impact your life forever; usually in the form of flares.

Prior to being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I had suffered with anxiety and depression which only got worse after being diagnosed. It’s hard to hear that you have a life long condition which is going to effect you your whole life. Add to that chronic pain, not being able to do things before pain, missing out on events…there’s a lot of things to process.

There’s also the issue that you don’t necessarily think you have a mental health condition. I didn’t really notice how my mental health was starting to become a problem, the negative thoughts I was having, the anxiety I was experiencing…it all was overshadowed by the physical problem that I ignored it.

What should I do if I’m struggling with mental health?

It’s so important to remember that you’re not alone through any of this. It’s tough and irregardless of whether you have a chronic illness or not you can feel incredibly isolated and like you have nowhere to go.

There are some amazing charities you can get in touch with; Samaritans and Mind are two amazing charities which offer immediate help and people to talk to. Whatever you are experiencing, there are people you can talk to who can help you get help.

If you have a chronic illness, there may be a healthcare professional you already feel comfortable talking to. For me, I spoke to my GP because I already had a good rapport with her and felt comfortable talking to her. She helped me access the counselling and CBT which I needed.

A major problem is accessing mental health services in the UK. Once you get on the right lists, it can often take 6 weeks or more to access any kind of help which is frustrating, especially when it takes a lot of courage. Whilst I waited for CBT, I actually googled CBT and did some of the worksheets (I still do this now actually too!) and whilst it is in no way a substitute, it can help whilst you wait to get the proper help you need.

Charities to do with your chronic illness may also offer help with mental health. Coming to terms with an illness is hard and I know that Crohn’s and Colitis UK have a phone number you can ring and speak to someone who understands your illness. Talk to specialist nurses and get into support groups with people who have the same conditions as you – talking to people who understand your situation can be incredibly beneficial.

More needs to be done

It is evident that more needs to be done to improve mental health care in the NHS. I think there needs to be more focus on mental health in chronic illnesses too. I used to go see a specialist once a month and never did I get asked how my mental wellbeing was throughout that. It’s a totally missed opportunity too because, guess what, I’m already there and it’s just a few extra questions.

Do you have a chronic illness? Do you think it’s impacted your mental health? How do you think services could improve? 

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