Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Helping Patients Thrive

Receiving a chronic health diagnosis can be a devastating experience. It can impact everything from long-term plans to everyday life. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that many chronically ill patients also suffer from mental health issues. Luckily, mental health professionals can help bridge the gap between physical and mental illness and empower patients to thrive.

There is a significant overlap between chronic illness and mental health. Many patients suffer from depression, anxiety, and other challenges following a diagnosis or as a direct result of their medical condition. Medically-informed mental health professionals specialize in these cases, helping patients live more fully. Find Empathy provides continuing education for those interested in helping people living with chronic illness through the psychology and mental health fields.

The Connection Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

People with chronic medical conditions experience mental or behavioral health issues for many of the same reasons as healthy people. This includes risk factors such as a family history of depression or the death of a family member. On the other hand, a chronic condition can cause patients to develop health-related mental health problems.

Chronic illness and mental health are often linked due to how they impact the brain. Consider Parkinson’s disease and stroke. Both can cause drastic changes in the brain, possibly playing a pivotal role in developing depression. In some cases, prescribed medications for a physical health problem can contribute to a patient developing depression.

Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Helping Patients Thrive

Physical and mental health can also be related in other ways. For example, living with a chronic disease can be stressful, limiting, and individuals often face many environmental or social barriers. This can trigger symptoms of anxiety, uncertainty, or even hopelessness. 

Patients with a chronic disease and depression often experience more severe symptoms of both conditions. This could be due to undergoing more expensive medical treatment than someone who only has one medical illness or mental health condition. They may also suffer from depression due to difficulty learning to adjust or accommodate new or unexpected health problems. 

In some cases, depression may worsen despite improvement in a physical health problem. Patients may benefit from treating the issues together rather than separately, calling for a collaborative effort between medical teams (i.e., primary care, neurology, nursing, and more) and a mental health specialist. Collaboration between team members can improve a patient’s symptoms and quality of life.

Click here to learn more about the relationship between physical health and mental health!

The Importance of Mental Health Specialists

Medical doctors are not always equipped to treat the psychological aspects of a chronic illness. Unfortunately, many people who live with a chronic health condition are at higher risk for depression and other mental or behavioral health problems. Since mental health and chronic illness go hand in hand, it makes sense that their treatment should, as well.

Case Study: Diabetes

Let’s consider diabetes. According to Johns Hopkins University, diabetics are 2 – 3 times more likely to develop depression. However, only 25 – 50% of them will be diagnosed and treated for it, which is a major problem. Finding a mental health provider that understands their chronic condition can truly be a lifesaver for people with diabetes.

Other Chronic Conditions

A significant number of patients with other chronic health problems also suffer from depression and can greatly benefit from mental health services.

This includes:

  • 51% of Parkinson’s patients
  • 42% of cancer patients
  • 23% of cerebrovascular patients
  • 17% of cardiovascular patients
  • 11% of Alzheimer’s patients

A primary health care provider can diagnose, treat, and advise patients on how to care for their physical health. What they may not be able to do is address the mental health concerns that come along with chronic diseases. Similarly, even a well-trained psychologist may not have adequate training to treat chronically ill patients with mental health issues. 

Health-Based Mental Health Professionals

Continuing Education for Health-Based Mental Health ProfessionalsDepression can make it difficult for patients to take care of themselves properly, which is why self-care is so important, especially when a patient is living with a chronic illness. But as we have seen, medical doctors and even mental health professionals may not be prepared to treat them. Patients need someone who can give them the unique skills they need to care for themselves.

This is where health-based mental health professionals come in. These unique therapists, psychologists, counselors, etc. specialize in how physical diagnoses can impact the psyche and vice versa. They provide patients with the tools they need to better care for both their minds and bodies, resulting in improved overall health outcomes.

To learn how to become a qualified mental health professional, click here!

Continuing Education for Health-Based Mental Health Treatment

Continuing education is essential if you’re a health-based mental health professional or interested in learning more about the topic. Rather than needing to be educated by patients about their condition, you will learn the skills to serve and treat them effectively. This saves time for both you and your patients, allowing you to understand how it impacts them more quickly.

It all starts with the Find Empathy Podcast. Here, we cover chronic health issues that can have a major impact on mental health, such as multiple sclerosis. We also cover other important topics for mental health professionals, including teleneuropsychology, outpatient telepsychology, and inpatient telepsychology. 

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All it takes is a few more steps to receive your continuing education (CE) credits. Once you’ve finished listening, create an account and complete the course requirements. This ensures that you receive full credit for your time and prepares you for treating patients with a chronic illness and mental health issues.

Are you interested in learning how to better serve chronically ill patients with mental health difficulties? Start listening today!

The connection between chronic illness and mental health can’t be overstated. A large portion of chronically ill patients struggle with mental health as well as physical health. Health-based mental health professionals can bridge the gap between physical health and mental health treatment. With Find Empathy, you can get the CEs that you need to better serve these patients.

Find Empathy’s purpose is to empower mental health professionals to better serve patients living with challenging chronic illnesses and medical diagnoses. Through our easy and accessible continuing education courses and credits, mental health providers are able to become medically informed on health psychology topics to help improve patient care and clinical outcomes.

Picture of Meghan Beier, PhD

Meghan Beier, PhD

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