Those with chronic illness often experience symptoms of psychological unrest such as isolation, loneliness, sadness, and even loss of hope. Unfortunately, many people disregard such symptoms and write them off as fleeting or temporary.
In reality, these issues can be indicative of serious psychological dysfunction. Because chronic illness is so often accompanied by mental health issues, it is essential that those suffering from chronic illness be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of psychological dysfunction.
Is There a Connection Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health?
Any type of stress can contribute to mental dysfunction. Chronic illness is a common cause of mental health issues as it often contributes to a great deal of emotional, psychological, and physical stress. Studies show that individuals suffering from one or more chronic illness are almost twice as likely to develop a mood disorder such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar, when compared to those without a chronic condition.
Although the relationship between chronic illness and mental health is not entirely understood, research clearly shows that they have a significant amount of influence over one another. Studies have identified several possible influential factors linking chronic dysfunction with psychological disorders including physiological changes brought on by chronic disease. Imbalances caused by chronic illness can negatively affect processes needed to maintain healthy neurological activity thereby prompting psychological disruption. These disruptions coupled with the psychological stressors that come from living with a chronic disease can further contribute to an overall worsening of your chronic condition.
Because psychological issues so frequently occur in those with chronic illness, it is highly beneficial for patients suffering from chronic disease to be familiar with the signs of declining mental health. Furthermore, identifying psychological issues early in their development can significantly improve treatment.
The Telltale Signs of Depression and Declining Mental Wellness
Patients suffering from chronic illness often feel lost, overwhelmed, anxious, panicked, depressed, and alone. These emotions can significantly degrade mental wellness and result directly in mood disorders, emotional imbalances, and a decline in cognitive ability.
Depression is a serious mental disorder affecting over 19 million Americans that often accompanies chronic illness. If depression goes unrecognized and untreated further emotional, psychological, and physical problems may develop. Unfortunately, many individuals suffering from depression or declining mental health do not recognize it. In part this is because the symptoms of mental disruption can seem vague and disconnected. Worse still, patients frequently normalize their dysfunction and simply accept it is an unavoidable cost of living, which can increase the risk of severe dysfunction and delay proper treatment.
To effectively protect yourself from and resolve existing cases of depression or other psychological issues it is essential that individuals be familiar with the signs and symptoms of dysfunction. The following symptoms may indicate a decline in mental health or the presence of a specific psychological disorder:
Changes in mood including:
- Erratic stress levels
Lack of self-worth exhibited by:
- Feeling empty
- Negative self-talk
- Sensations of worthlessness
- Thoughts of suicide
Loss of Interest such as:
- Disinterest in sex
- Ignoring hobbies
- No longer engaged at work
Neurological problems including:
- Difficulty focusing
Physical symptoms such as:
- Back pain
- Changes in weight
- Digestive issues
- Heart palpitations
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Unexplained aches and/or pains
Sleep issues involving:
- Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
- Excessive sleeping
- Waking up too early
The physical and emotional issues relating to depression can remain for years. As such, perhaps the best universal indicator of depression is the duration of symptoms. When symptoms relating to melancholy and lethargy remain for an extended period it is quite likely that a person is suffering from some degree of depression. However, the severity, occurrence, and duration of symptoms is dependent on the patient. This can make diagnosis even more difficult. Therefore, determining if your symptoms stem from depression or a temporary case of “the blues” takes practice and intentional observation.
In addition to the above symptoms of psychological dysfunction, depression may cause specific issues depending on individual patient factors such as gender and age.
Men who are depressed tend to recognize and express concern over the physical elements of depression such as fatigue, irritability, and changes in sleep quality. Additionally, it is often the case that depressed men lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, hobbies, and/or work. Men who are depressed are more likely to experience anger, aggression, recklessness, and engage in substance abuse than others.
Depression in women tends to prompt an increase in sleep, overeating, and weight gain. Furthermore, women suffering from depression often experience more pronounced sensations of guilt, loneliness, and general sadness. These differences may be influenced by significant but natural hormonal changes such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Teenagers facing depression, regardless of gender, typically have symptoms that are highly expressive such as irritability, anger, and frustration. Physical pains or discomforts such as headaches, stomachaches, and muscle or joint pains may also accompany teen depression.
Older individuals suffering from depression usually report physical symptoms such as fatigue, unusual or unexplainable aches and pains, and issues with memory. It seems that the emotional indicators of depression at an older age may be less pronounced.
Stay Vigilant for the Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Decline
The likelihood of developing depression and other forms of mental illness are increased significantly among those with chronic illness. Unfortunately, psychological issues triggered by chronic disease are frequently overlooked and undertreated. If depressive symptoms are affecting your quality of life and impeding your ability to live life as you want it, it is likely that you are suffering from depression. By reading this article you have become better educated with the indicators of declining mental health and taken the first step to resolving psychological dysfunction.
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.