Bridging the Gap Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health 

The gap between Chronic illness and mental health

When a chronic illness like diabetes, chronic heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease enters a person’s life, it means that most of the time their whole living situation changes dramatically and abruptly. New limitations are introduced in a person’s life; limitations of movement, constant visits to healthcare facilities, and changes in their body are all great sources of emotional distress. 

According to Mental Health America, patients with chronic conditions were positive or were at risk of having mental health conditions from a rate of 70% (cancer patients) up to 80% (COPD patients). Despite these high numbers, mental health however usually remains in the margins and is not properly detected and treated, as the chronic illness takes center stage. 

Undetected mental health conditions however work as a ticking time bomb in the background, burdening the patients’ condition and even creating new ones. An ever-growing amount of research attests that this is an issue still to be properly addressed, especially now that tools for the early screening and monitoring of mental health conditions are readily available online.

Why Are The Chronically Ill More Susceptible to Mental Health Conditions?

Having a chronic illness can be particularly disruptive to a person’s life. Their aspirations and careers need to readjust to a new reality, and they focus more on overcoming their condition through daily challenges, all the while having to contain a constant worry about their health and how to manage this new reality. 

Moreover, patients with chronic illness have to be frequently hospitalized or be in states of reduced mobility, resulting in feelings of isolation and stress. This stress becomes a long-term reality, which, alongside all the chemical and hormonal changes the patient recognizes in their body, can multiply the chances of developing a mental health condition.

How Easy Is It For Healthcare Providers to Detect Mental Health Conditions in the Chronically Ill?

Sadly, for patients with chronic illnesses, mental health either remains overlooked or overshadowed by the seriousness of the original problem. As Turner and Kelly point out in their article on the emotional dimensions of chronic disease, physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep, impaired appetite, and lack of energy would suggest mental illness can already be caused by the disease or attributed to it. Any extra signs of distress or mood change are considered “understandable” by clinicians and left untreated. 

Turner and Kelly suggest that diagnoses of mental illness should be aided by examining the patient’s risk factors, such as whether they have a history of depression, a major functional disability, or pain, or whether they have adverse social circumstances, such as unemployment or financial strain. 

The Critical Role of Early Mental Health Detection in Chronic Illness Care

Given the above, it becomes clear how difficult it is to detect and address mental health issues in those populations that suffer physically. It is very crucial as well: according to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with depression are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, pain, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. 

Living with a chronic illness like diabetes can be bad enough, and adding mental illness to the mix only makes it worse. Accumulating other physical illnesses because of depression adds a layer of difficulty to a patient’s condition that can be impossible.

This is why access to online tools that facilitate mental illness detection, like LANGaware’s monitoring tool for depression, can prove invaluable to contain a problem that is already big. Detecting symptoms of depression at an early stage and taking the correct steps to treat it can be like cauterizing the Hydra’s neck to keep it from growing two more heads. 

Paving the Way for a More Effective Healthcare System for the Chronically Ill

About 28.2 million people suffer chronic heart disease, over 50 million suffer chronic pain, and about 30.2 million people live with diabetes, according to MHA. The issue of mental health among these vast demographics is too big to remain unaddressed. Early detection and monitoring of mental health conditions among people with chronic illness can vastly improve their treatment, making the work of healthcare providers easier and more effective, and in the long term, paving the way for an overall healthier population.

Kostis Pattakos

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