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The Psychological Impact of Chronic Illness

Managing a chronic illness is an incredibly difficult experience at any age. Although some people may be predisposed to certain medical conditions due to genetics or lifestyle factors, you can never predict what your future looks like in regards to your physical health. Not only does chronic illness cause physical symptoms, but it can take a significant toll on your mental health, too. It may change what your current day-to-day life looks like, and it may change your expectations for your future. Coming to terms with this fact isn’t always easy.
 
The psychological effects of chronic illness are serious. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you should be aware of the possible mental health complications that are connected. Mental health support is available, and it can make a world of difference in managing the emotions associated with the diagnosis. Being proactive and reaching out for help as early as possible is critical for seniors who are living with chronic illness.
 

The Grieving Process After Diagnosis

 
Many people who are diagnosed with a chronic illness go through a grieving process similar to the emotions you may experience after losing a loved one. Although no one has passed away, you might feel like you’re mourning the loss of your health or the loss of the lifestyle you had hoped to maintain.
 
In this day and age, medical treatments and adaptive tools make it possible for people with many different illnesses to live life to the fullest. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness doesn’t mean that your life is over. However, it is still normal to feel like you’ve lost something due to your chronic illness. You may feel angry at the unfairness of the situation, or you may be in denial about the reality of your diagnosis.
 

Loss of Control

 
The loss of control that happens when you have a chronic illness can cause mental or emotional turmoil. The diagnosis may have been completely unexpected, so you feel like your life has changed dramatically without your input.
 
Older adults sometimes struggle with asking for help due to their chronic illness. Many people value their independence and are frustrated when they need assistance with tasks they used to complete on their own. Your family and friends are likely happy to help, but feelings of anger, hopelessness, or anxiety are common when you’re dealing with a chronic illness that has affected your independence.
 

Depression and Chronic Illness

 
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues associated with chronic illness. Sometimes, friends and family of a person with a chronic illness think that their depressive symptoms are just a natural result of their medical condition. Depression is treatable, though, regardless of the state of your physical health.
 
You may be more vulnerable to depression when you have a chronic illness due to loss of independence, fear for the future, or feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. In many cases, people with a chronic health condition need to adjust to a new normal, but this change isn’t usually welcome. Depression can occur as a result of all of the changes, uncertainties, and other difficult aspects of managing a chronic disease.
 

Stress and Chronic Illness

 
The fear and anxiety you may feel when dealing with a chronic illness are challenging enough, but you might also be stressed about a number of other concerns. You may worry about finances as medications and other treatments can be expensive, and you may stress about arranging transportation to your appointments. Being diagnosed with an illness is a major life event, and all major life events can cause stress.
 

Trauma and Chronic Illness

 
Chronic illness can also be a traumatic experience. Invasive treatments, frightening medical emergencies, or fears of dying can all lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. You might feel anxious when you think back on these stressful moments, or you may avoid attending a doctor’s appointment because it triggers unpleasant memories.
 

Medication and Mental Health Side Effects

 
In some cases, medications used to treat a chronic illness can cause mental health symptoms as side effects. For example, anxiety is a possible side effect of many drugs, especially steroids and blood pressure medications. Some medications may cause symptoms of depression because they affect certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
 
Experiencing mental health symptoms as a result of medication can be a difficult situation. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a different drug with more manageable side effects, but this isn’t always possible. You need to uphold your physical health, so finding ways to cope with the mental health effects is critical.
 

How to Cope With Chronic Illness

 
Although maintaining good mental health while living with a chronic health condition might not be easy, it is possible with self-reflection and support from others. You probably have a lot on your mind if you have a chronic illness, but try to take some time to check in with yourself and your mental health. Has your baseline mood changed in the last few weeks or months? Are you spending time with your loved ones and enjoying your hobbies? Do you feel good about your outlook on life right now?
 
If you start to notice concerning thoughts or emotions that are becoming a habit in your mind, it might be time to reach out to someone for support. You could speak with a trusted family member or friend if you feel comfortable opening up to them, or you could join a support group for people who are going through something similar. Talking through your emotions and experiences can help you relieve stress and find clarity.
 
Mental health counseling is another valuable resource for people with chronic illness. Therapy is a private and safe place for you to express your feelings about your diagnosis. Your therapist can help you find ways to manage the depression, grief, anger, or other emotions you’re facing, and they can recommend ways for you to lift your mood and reduce stress.
 
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. As you learn to treat your chronic illness, don’t forget to take care of your mood. A chronic health condition can lead to a number of psychological symptoms, but you can always ask for support.
 
If you or a senior loved one is struggling with chronic illness and mental health, reach out to Blue Moon Senior Counseling today. Our licensed therapists specialize in working with older adults, and we are happy to offer support as you adjust to life with a chronic illness.

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