Mental health affects physical health. Here, we explore how the opposite is true by examining how chronic physical health conditions can impact mental health.
So often, we try to separate the mind from the body when it comes to health. A condition applies to either “physical health” or “mental health,” with lines rarely crossing. However, those who are familiar with mental health conditions know that they impact physical health as well. For example, those suffering panic attacks experience shortness of breath, a runaway heartbeat, and chest pain, and those who struggle with depression may see a change in sleep and appetite patterns.
Since mental health can affect physical wellbeing, it stands to reason that physical health may impact mental wellbeing. Being aware of how chronic health conditions impact mental health can help those with these conditions recognize all their symptoms—not just the ones that affect their bodies.
Chronic Pain and Mental Health
No one enjoys being in pain, but most of us are fortunate enough to deal with it for only brief periods. For those with chronic health conditions—whether it’s chronic migraines, arthritis, or cancer—pain is a consistent part of life that often hampers mobility, focus, and mood. It should come as no surprise, then, that those suffering from chronic pain are often susceptible to anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Since pain can also hamper mobility, those suffering may experience feelings of helplessness as well. All these factors can lead to increased stress and a lack of motivation.
Frequent Hospital Stays
We visit a hospital for the same reason that we take medicine: to get well. However, just as there are side effects to taking medicine, there are some mental health “side effects” to the frequent hospital visits that those with chronic health conditions have to make.
Hospitals are full of constant movement and noise—the hum of machines, the beeping of alarms, and healthcare providers going in and out. This activity disrupts sleep, which can have an adverse effect on mood and stress levels and can make it difficult for patients to ever feel at ease. Constant exposure to high-stress scenarios can take a toll after a while. And having to miss important events because of hospital trips, as well as a disrupted sense of normalcy, can lead to a sense of loss.
Healthcare providers can do their part by supporting patient safety to help them feel secure. Those who visit patients can do their part by bringing “home” to them as much as possible.
Health Conditions Surrounding the Brain
For some people, mental health issues don’t just come as a natural response to the difficulties—they result from them. Some chronic health issues impact mental health by changing the chemistry of the brain, including Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia, and brain tumors. These conditions may cause mood swings, psychosis, forgetfulness, and personality changes. There are therapies that focus specifically on helping those who struggle with personality changes and confusion that accompany these conditions. Along with this, making changes to the environment can help patients feel more at ease.