The Connection Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

April 29, 2022

Imagine being diagnosed with a chronic illness. You’re sitting in an LED-lit doctor’s office as the healthcare professional across from you begins to explain the implications of this diagnosis on your life. While their tone is gentle and their intention is to reassure you, their words hit like a two-ton wrecking ball. 

How will this affect my kids? My partner? Our finances? How is this happening? 

Your mind floods with a million questions and concerns, but before you can begin to unpack the mental and emotional avalanche that just took place inside you, the doctor begins talking about treatment options and medication… 

Living with a chronic illness can be an insurmountable challenge. It can feel isolating, frustrating, scary, and can limit activities you once enjoyed. And the effects of chronic illness don’t stop with physical challenges. Chronic conditions can change the way you live, how you view yourself, and how you relate to others. At the end of the day, chronic illness affects your mental health.


Why Mental Health Matters

According to the CDC, people who suffer from a chronic condition are more likely to also suffer from depression. Scientists have yet to determine if having a chronic illness increases the risk of depression, or if depression increases the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition. 

Some conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke can cause changes in the brain that may directly affect the likelihood of depression. Other condition-related anxiety and stress may also trigger symptoms of depression. Depression is common among people with certain chronic conditions, such as: 

  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Autoimmune diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis 
  • Cancer 
  • Coronary heart disease 
  • Diabetes 
  • Epilepsy 
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Parkinson’s disease 
  • Stroke 

A collaborative approach including both mental and physical healthcare can improve overall wellness. Research has shown that treating depression and a chronic illness together can help people better manage both.


How Common Are Mental Illnesses?

More than 50% of people in the US will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. And one in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness. 

How to tell if you might be depressed? The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists some of the symptoms of depression: 

  • Feeling sad, irritable, or anxious 
  • Feeling empty, hopeless, guilty, or worthless 
  • Loss of pleasure in hobbies or activities you usually enjoy 
  • Fatigue and decreased energy, feeling listless 
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions 
  • Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much 
  • Eating too much or not wanting to eat at all 
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or suicide attempts 
  • Unexplained or persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems 

To effectively treat an individual, we must look at the whole person, which means examining the connections between traditional chronic physical conditions and mental health concerns. 

Often, when a person receives a diagnosis for a health condition it becomes the primary diagnosis focused on by healthcare providers and becomes the central lens through which that individual is seen. Coordination of care should address all various conditions with an understanding that mental health conditions are very treatable.


How Accessia Health Can Help

Accessia Health recognizes that chronic medical conditions have an impact on mental health and wellness. We have added financial assistance for mental health counseling for most of our programs and have established a specific Behavioral Health program, for which we are currently seeking funding.  

For more information, or to see if you qualify for assistance in any of our available programs, check out our prescreening tool and apply today. You can also call us at 1-800-366-7741.*  

To donate to this program, click here to fill out our donation form. Make sure to designate your gift to the “Behavioral Health Fund.”


*Please consult with your healthcare provider or seek professional medical treatment if you have any medical concerns. Please do not disregard any professional medical advice or take any delay in seeking medical treatment based on anything that you may have read in this blog, on this website, or any linked materials contained within. Thank You.