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Invisible Illnesses and Mental Health




Stacked rocks by a river

Anyone who has lived with an invisible illness will tell you that the pain and suffering of the condition itself are nearly always compounded by associated problems that develop as part of, or as a result of, living with this type of condition. One of the most common problems associated with chronic illnesses is mental health issues, and this is just as true of invisible ailments as any other. Mental illness can be just as hard, if not harder, to bear than a physical illness, and having two serious problems at the same time can lead to a downward spiral in which both conditions exacerbate each other. In effect, many people are living with two invisible illnesses, as mental health is viewed in very much the same way by non-sufferers.

The connection between invisible illnesses and mental health

In some cases, it’s not clear whether the stress of living with constant pain and ill health leads to mental health problems, or if the patient’s state of mind is having a physical effect on them. This has led to claims that invisible illnesses are all in the mind, but as our understanding of how the body functions increases, it is becoming clear that mind and body are inextricably linked, and one will always have an effect on the other. For the purposes of treating invisible illnesses, it’s useful to find out as far as possible whether mental issues have led to the physical issues because this implies that if the mental issues can be overcome, the physical symptoms may recede. If you have an invisible illness and fear that people will think it is all in your mind, your concern is that this somehow makes it less real. The cause of any suffering is in this sense immaterial, because if you feel pain, then the pain exists, no matter what the underlying cause. The only relevance of determining the cause is in establishing the form of treatment most likely to be effective.

Mental health issues that affect sufferers of chronic illnesses

There are as many, if not more, mental health conditions as there are invisible illnesses. These are the most frequently associated with chronic health problems caused by invisible illness:

  • Depression: one of the most prevalent mental health problems in all sectors of the population, and a cause of strife to many people around the world. Its causes are many and varied but usually fall into one of two main categories; those episodes which develop as part of life experience such as divorce or bereavement, and those that plague some individuals throughout their life. Sufferers typically feel very low, have reduced self-esteem, feel they are worthless and have trouble seeing their life clearly. Having a painful, debilitating illness is an obvious cause of low mood disorders, and this is one of the most common manifestations of mental health distress in those with invisible illnesses. Whatever the source of your depression, it is important to try and seek help and support, because the lower you go, the harder it may be to recover. Seek help from your doctor, attend counselling sessions if you can and get support from forums and online groups of fellow sufferers.
  • Anxiety: often accompanies depression but manifests in quite different ways. Feelings of fear cause cortisol and adrenaline levels to rise, which in turn leads to raised heart rate, sweating and shaking. This can then result in full-blown panic attacks, where the sufferer reaches a point when they can’t cope with the situation they are in. The fear of having a panic attack makes people avoid going out, and they can then become socially isolated. You might need to take medication to reduce the over-production of stress hormones before you can begin your road to recovery, so talk to your doctor for advice on the best way to deal with your anxiety.
  • Substance abuse: Having the odd drink isn’t a problem for most people. But if you are using alcohol as a way to cope with life, and you feel you can’t manage without it, you may wish to address this issue and seek help. Using drink as a way to get through the day won’t help you feel better in the long run because you will be affecting your health and making it worse than ever. Illegal drugs are illegal for good reasons, and one rising problem that is causing a lot of concern right now is the abuse of prescription drugs. This is particularly pertinent to those with invisible illnesses, because opioids are one of the main causes of concern with regard to prescription drug abuse, and they have frequently been used to treat symptoms of chronic pain. If you can recognise when you are dependent on these substances, it will help you to seek treatment before too much damage has been done. Rehab facilities like Recovery In Motion Tucson can be a big help when you’re trying to quit your habit, so don’t struggle on alone when there are people and places there to help.

Other emotional problems

It’s not just serious mental health disorders that can affect your life when you live with a chronic illness. You might not have clinical depression, but you can still feel miserable, angry, worried, and afraid a lot of the time. Any negative emotions you feel can make your symptoms worse. Accepting any problem, you may be going through is a positive step in the process of how you can be helped in sorting them. Invisible illnesses are difficult to cope with on their own, and if you feel you may also be dealing with other issues, this should be addressed sooner rather than later. Don’t feel you have to resign yourself to depression or anxiety, or that alcohol and self-medicating are the only answers. Find ways to help yourself, and you will help your invisible illness as well. Through seeking help and guidance through services, centres and further loved ones, you can hope to be on the road to working through the hard times.

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