The Relationship Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

by | Apr 12, 2023 | Chronic Illness, Mental Health | 0 comments

Chronic illnesses are long-term conditions that require ongoing medical care and management. These conditions can be physical, such as diabetes or heart disease, or mental, such as depression or anxiety. Chronic illnesses can significantly impact a person’s physical health, but they can also have a profound effect on their mental health as well.

The link between chronic illness and mental health is complex and multifaceted, especially considering many chronic illnesses are actually mental illnesses. For many people, the experience of living with a chronic illness is emotionally and psychologically challenging. The stress of managing a chronic illness can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that may not otherwise exist. Conversely, mental health problems can worsen chronic illness symptoms and make it more difficult to manage the condition.

Below, we will explore the relationship between chronic illness and mental health and provide strategies for managing both aspects of a person’s well-being.

The Connection between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

There are quite a few ways that chronic illness can impact a person’s mental health. Here are just a few of the most common factors:

Physical Symptoms

Chronic illnesses often cause physical symptoms that can be distressing and uncomfortable. For example, someone with chronic pain may find it challenging to perform daily activities, and someone with a chronic skin condition may feel self-conscious about their appearance. Physical symptoms can also lead to anxiety and depression, making it more challenging to cope with the illness.

Treatment Side Effects

Many chronic illnesses require ongoing treatment, such as medication, physical therapy, or surgery. While these treatments can be effective, they can also cause side effects that impact mental health. For example, a person undergoing chemotherapy may experience fatigue and nausea, while someone taking medication for a mental health condition may experience drowsiness or weight gain.

Lifestyle Changes

Chronic illnesses often require significant lifestyle changes, such as following a specific diet, avoiding certain activities, or modifying exercise routines. These changes can be challenging to adapt to and may lead to feelings of frustration or isolation. Especially for a person that was not born with this chronic illness, having to make major adjustments can be difficult and defeating. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of anger and resentment as a result.

Social Isolation

Chronic illnesses can also lead to social isolation, as someone may not be able to participate in social activities or may feel self-conscious about their condition. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. In addition to this, the person affected may feel that their life’s not worth living as a result. This can lead to suicidal ideation.

Mental Health Conditions Linked to Chronic Illness

The link between chronic illness and mental health is far from one-sided. Mental health conditions can also impact chronic illness symptoms and treatment outcomes. Here are a few examples:


Depression is a common mental health condition that can make it more challenging to manage a chronic illness. People with depression may have less energy and motivation to follow through with treatment plans, and they may also experience physical symptoms like fatigue and pain that make it difficult to manage their chronic condition.


Anxiety is another common mental health condition that can exacerbate chronic illness symptoms. People with anxiety may worry excessively about their health, which can lead to panic attacks and physical symptoms like increased heart rate and sweating. 

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are mental health conditions that can impact physical health, particularly for people with chronic illnesses like diabetes. These disorders can lead to uncontrolled blood sugar levels and can make it more challenging to manage chronic illness symptoms. It may also cause lowered energy and nutrient deficiencies. This becomes an issue as the body is not being given the support it needs to fight back.

Substance Abuse

Alcohol or drug abuse can have a massive impact on chronic illness symptoms and treatment outcomes. As an example, a person with a chronic pain condition may turn to opioids to manage their pain, leading to addiction and worsening of their overall health. In addition to this, a person suffering from depression resulting from their chronic illness may self-medicate and turn to alcohol as a way to numb themselves. 

Managing Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Managing a chronic illness and mental health conditions can be challenging, but it’s essential to prioritize both aspects of your well-being. Fortunately, there are a few proven strategies for managing both.

Stay Connected

Social support is essential for managing both chronic illness and mental health. Connect with friends and family members who can provide emotional support or join a support group for people with similar conditions. Understanding that you are not alone in your struggle can be a powerful way to establish a sense of normalcy or community.

Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care is essential for managing both physical and mental health. Make time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time outdoors. Additionally, prioritize healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and avoiding harmful substances like tobacco and alcohol. These habits can make a large impact on both your mental health and your chronic illness.

Seek Professional Help

If you’re struggling with your mental health or managing your chronic illness, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A mental health professional can help you develop coping strategies and manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. A healthcare provider can also help you adjust your treatment plan to better manage your chronic illness.

Educate Yourself

Learn as much as you can about your chronic illness and how it impacts your physical and mental health. Understanding your condition can help you better manage symptoms and develop a sense of control over your health. Knowledge is power and this can give you an upper hand as you move forward with your treatment plan.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. This practice can be helpful for managing stress and anxiety related to chronic illness. Try incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine through activities like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.

Take Advantage of Technology

Technology can be a useful tool for managing both chronic illness and mental health. Apps like MyFitnessPal or MyPlate can help you track your diet and exercise, while mental health apps like Headspace or Calm can provide guided meditation and relaxation exercises.

The link between chronic illness and mental health is complex and multifaceted. Living with a chronic illness can be emotionally and psychologically challenging, and mental health conditions can impact physical health and make it more challenging to manage a chronic illness. However, with the right strategies and support, it’s possible to manage both aspects of your well-being. Prioritizing self-care, seeking professional help when needed, and practicing mindfulness and other coping strategies can help you manage both chronic illness and mental health. Remember, it’s essential to prioritize both physical and mental health for optimal overall well-being.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help.  We offer Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs for adolescents and adults and have locations in the Houston area.  We also offer virtual programs that are available to residents of Texas.  To learn more, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at  You can also learn more about individual and family therapy options at


Keywords: Chronic illness; Illness; Mental health; Health conditions and mental health


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