Patients with chronic illnesses often experience many challenges with their mental health. Studies show that people living with a chronic disease are more likely to develop anxiety and depression. Like chronic medical conditions, mental health issues are treatable. We talked to Dr. Alddo Molinar — an anesthesiologist at the East Ohio Regional Hospital — about what can help people diagnosed with chronic illnesses live happy and healthy lives.
Dr. Alddo Molinar on the Link between Chronic Diseases & Mental Health
In the US, around 50% of all adults develop at least one kind of chronic medical condition, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Given how devastating these diseases can be, it’s easy to see why patients with chronic conditions are likely to develop mental illnesses. Getting diagnosed with a chronic disease can be terrifying and disorienting, Dr. Molinar says.
It’s common to experience a range of feelings and emotions after such a diagnosis. Depending on the condition and its severity, a patient may experience significant lifestyle changes. You must also deal with the stress of managing your condition. For example, some people associate a diagnosis of diabetes with feelings of shame and guilt.
Grief is also a common reaction to a new medical diagnosis. Patients may experience different stages of grief, such as shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. A chronic disease diagnosis may also take you on a rollercoaster of emotions—one day acceptance and the next day anger. It is important to remember that these emotions and feelings are normal and that you’re not alone!
Dr. Alddo Molinar on Chronic Illnesses and Covid-19 Considerations
The latest information suggests that chronic illnesses are more common at old age, and can make older people more vulnerable to severe complications. Older adults with chronic diseases are at greater risk of developing COVID-19 complications, says Dr. Alddo Molinar. Although most COVID-19 patients recover, patients with chronic medical conditions are far more likely to die of COVID-related complications. Diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, can put people at higher risk of severe illness.
Patients at greater risk for COVID-related complications because of chronic conditions should take similar measures to avoid colds and other diseases. These include washing hands, maintaining physical distance, and keeping their hands away from their mouth, nose, and eyes, Dr. Molinar advises. They must also avoid mass gatherings and stay home if they feel sick, he adds.
Tips from Dr. Alddo Molinar on Managing Your Mental Health If You Have a Chronic Illness
Don’t assume depression or other mental health problems are a normal part of your chronic illness. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems don’t just ease the symptoms. Dr. Molinar says that people with a chronic condition can experience a major improvement in their health if they manage their mental health. It can also improve the quality of life for patients and make it easier to manage their chronic illnesses, he adds. As you navigate the feelings and emotions of a new diagnosis, the following suggestions from Dr. Molinar can help.
Acknowledge and Accept Your Situation
The mind’s number one priority is survival. That means the mind is designed to avoid anything that puts us at risk, including pain and suffering. That’s why acceptance is so important. You need to acknowledge and accept your current circumstances to manage a chronic illness and depression, Dr. Alddo Molinar says. Sometimes, chronic medical conditions cause pain and suffering that is difficult to relieve and that can be very frustrating.
We are naturally inclined to try and control situations we cannot change. There’s one bitter truth that many people refuse to acknowledge—it’s impossible to control many of the things that happen in our lives. Fighting emotional suffering can lead to even more suffering. Accepting your situation doesn’t mean you stop treating it, but it allows you to focus on what you can control.
Take Charge of Your Wellness Journey
Mental health struggles—coupled with chronic conditions—require care and attention. For that reason, you need several providers who will support you on your recovery journey. People with mental health conditions should receive care from different providers because of their complex health requirements and the prevalence of physical and behavioral health comorbidities.
When patients see multiple providers that don’t work in collaboration with each other, it leads to inaccurate diagnoses and duplicate treatment. Taking charge of your mental health treatment journey will allow you to communicate your illness and your feelings. This also allows you to establish a proper medical team and a treatment plan that works for your mental health and chronic condition.
Self-education can create a positive environment for managing mental health for patients with chronic illnesses. Many patients lose control of their conditions because of a lack of awareness, says Dr. Molinar. By studying your situation, and educating yourself on how to manage it, you’ll be empowered to make the right decisions.
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation have proved to ease symptoms in people with chronic illness while reducing stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is about observing one’s thoughts and experiences without judgment. It involves training ourselves to observe our physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions. One great way to practice mindfulness is the practice of meditation.
Good examples of medication practices, including sitting quietly, and focusing on your natural breathing. Dr. Alddo Molinar notes that mindfulness and meditation work by helping patients to accept their situations—including painful emotions—instead of reacting to them with avoidance and aversion. Relaxation exercises and mindfulness can improve your state of mind and perspective on life.
Surround Yourself With Support
Mental illness and chronic conditions can be overwhelming and isolating. People with strong social support or family connections are generally happier and healthier than those without a support network. Make plans with supportive friends and family members or engage in activities that allow you to meet new people.
Practice Physical, Mental, and Emotional Self-Care
Both chronic illness and mental illnesses do best with reduced stress levels, better sleep, and following the healthcare provider’s recommendations. Dr. Alddo Molinar also noted that exercise and diet changes also lead to an improvement in both conditions. Eating nutritious meals, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep can improve both conditions. Dr. Molinar says it is important to respect your body’s needs for sleep and rest. You can find peace in knowing that you are more than your illness.
Seek Professional Help
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness—but a sign of strength. And rest assured that treatment is available and effective. Managing mental health issues with a chronic illness requires commitment, but it’s so worth it! Individuals who get proper care and support can recover from mental health problems and lead fulfilling lives. Follow the above tips from Dr. Alddo Molinar and kick start your journey to mental wellness and effectively manage your chronic illness.