The link between chronic conditions and mental health issues

How your mental health affects your physical health

Mental and physical health are interconnected. People facing mental health challenges are at a higher risk of developing a range of chronic physical conditions. In fact, one out of two Canadians with major depression reports a co-existing physical condition that limits their day-to-day activities[i].

Negative mental health can also contribute to physical pain. Disorders like schizophrenia are often associated with chronic physical conditions, due to both biological and behavioural factors. Both depression and schizophrenia increase the likelihood of developing diabetes because of their impact on the body's ability to produce insulin. People with serious mental illness are also at higher risk of heart disease due to poor nutrition and obesity. Physical symptoms can occur from the mental health issue itself or from the treatment's side effects.

How chronic physical conditions affect your mental health

Mental health issues can also arise as a result of chronic physical ailments. Canadians with chronic physical conditions are twice as likely as the general population to experience a mood or anxiety disorder [ii]. Depression is linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Individuals with cancer experience especially high rates of depression. 

People living with chronic physical conditions often experience ongoing pain and emotional distress, leading to depression and anxiety. What’s more, they have to endure ongoing medical treatment. After treatment, patients are particularly susceptible to anxiety and depression due to feelings of helplessness when they’re no longer doing anything to treat their condition.

What does the relationship between physical and mental health look like?

Chronic conditions that often run alongside mental illness include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, respiratory conditions and cancer. Forty percent of people with diabetes experience increased anxiety due to emotional distress. High blood sugar levels are also associated with the development of depression.

People who experience mental health challenges may have irregular heart rhythms or increased adrenaline and stress hormones, which can increase their heart rates to potentially damaging levels. Respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and chronic pulmonary disease also commonly occur. These conditions derive from the high smoking rates of people who are living with mental health issues.

Taking care of your body and mind

It’s helpful to remember that the mind and body are connected; and it’s essential to take care of your physical and emotional health due to the link between chronic conditions and mental health issues. Check in with yourself each day and make sure you’ve done something positive for both your body and your mind. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, AbilitiCBT, an internet-based mental health program, may be a good option for you.

[i] Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. (n.d.) The relationship between mental health, mental illness, and chronic physical conditions. Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario.  https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/the-relationship-between-mental-health-mental-illness-and-chronic-physical-conditions/

[ii] Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. (n.d.) The relationship between mental health, mental illness, and chronic physical conditions. Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario.  https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/the-relationship-between-mental-health-mental-illness-and-chronic-physical-conditions/