How Having a Chronic Illness can Affect Your Mental Health

Having a chronic illness isn’t easy. You will have good days and bad ones. There will be days when you might be managing severe pain levels. There will be days where it might be difficult to even get out of bed. While we can't control the symptoms of our chronic illnesses, we can learn to not let our illnesses rule our existence.

Your pain will ebb and flow, and there will even be days that you feel like you’re not sick at all. During those times you might overdo it, hike to the top of Mount Hood, or attend a corporate conference where you’re on your feet all day. After you engage in these fun activities that bring you joy, you might find that the next day your body is in remission.

That reminder of being chronically ill is a hard thing to deal with. Not being able to regularly exercise, get out of the house or go to regular social events can impact your mental health. You might feel depressed and isolated because you can’t be around the people you care about which inevitably impacts your mental health.

It’s not surprising that people with chronic illness often suffer from episodes of depression. If you deal with chronic pain, you might also experience depression. Pain is something that is extremely difficult to cope with and there are times when it is so intense that you have no choice but to hang on and ride it out. You can take pain medicine, see an acupuncturist for pain management or go to yoga classes that focus on pain management to lessen your pain. Yet, there will still often be pain episodes that persist, even if less frequently or less intensely.

One of the most difficult parts of living with chronic pain is that it can be invisible to others. There are pain disorders that affect the person internally, but to an onlooker, the person looks “normal.” When your pain isn’t seen or acknowledged this can be upsetting. The person with chronic pain can feel anger, resentment and this may lead to feelings of depression.

Depression isn’t the only mental health issue that affects people with chronic illnesses. Having a chronic illness can make the afflicted person feel anxious. For example, if someone with a chronic illness applies for a job they have to consider whether or not they will disclose their illness on the application. If their illness is regarded as a disability, they have to decide whether they want to take the risk of letting their potential employer know that they have it. Will they be discriminated against for having a chronic illness that they didn’t ask to manage? Discrimination is a real fear that people with chronic illnesses face.

Many of us struggle with mental health issues, including those with chronic illnesses. It’s okay to ask to help when you need it. And in fact, there are resources to find free therapy to help with your mental health issues. Whether you seek the help of an online counsellor or locate a therapist to work within your area, you can get help to manage your mental health issues that come with living with chronic illness.

This is the last article in a series on chronic illness and mental health from BetterHelp!

Author: Sarah is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

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