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The Bi-Directional Intersection of Chronic Conditions and Mental Health

Updated: May 30, 2023

A chronic illness or disease is a physical condition that requires medical attention for at least one year. Chronic illnesses include diabetes, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDs, lupus, and cystic fibrosis. According to the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2020), 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 adults have two or more conditions. A chronic condition diagnosis is life-altering and may increase susceptibility to mental health conditions.

The Feedback Loop

Chronic diseases create causative conditions for mental illness. The converse is also true. For example, a person with a stroke is at a greater risk for anxiety and depression in the first five years. Grappling with the residual physical or cognitive limitations may evoke constant feelings of loss, grief, shame, and worry, thereby hindering rehabilitation.

Conversely, persons with schizophrenia have a greater risk of developing heart disease. The symptoms of mental illness make it difficult to attain and maintain healthy behaviors. Therefore, they are more likely to smoke, consume high-fat diets, and least likely to exercise.

Challenges to addressing chronic medical and mental conditions.

The bi-directional relationship between chronic medical and mental illnesses is now a well-accepted conclusion. One of the challenges in the healthcare system is finding an approach to treat both concerns holistically. A greater challenge is recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, knowing when to seek help, and navigating mental healthcare systems.


 

References:

Guerra, M. (2022). The Cascading Effect of Comorbidities: Addressing Chronic Medical Disease Alongside Mental Health. RTI Health Alliance. Retrieved from: https://healthcare.rti.org/insights/mental-health-and-chronic-disease-comorbidities

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). (2020). Chronic Diseases in America. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm

Osborn, D.P. (2001). The poor physical health of people with mental illness. The Western Journal of Medicine, 175(5), 329-332. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1136/ewjm.175.5.329

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