Learning How Chronic Illness Affects Mental Health
If you suffer from a chronic illness it can be tough. Every aspect of your life feels different, including your mental health.
Oftentimes chronic conditions causes us to focus heavily on our physical health changes. But it’s just as important to understand how it affects mental health. This is especially important for minorities—as race and chronic illness go hand in hand.
Learning how to navigate life with chronic illness can be a process. But with the right support, resources, and education, you can gain a better understanding of what’s available to you and how you can improve your quality of life.
What causes a chronic illness?
It’s first important to understand what a chronic illness is and what causes it.
According to the CDC, a chronic illness is a condition that lasts greater than 1 year. It requires ongoing medical treatment and/or limits your day-to-day activity.
Monitoring chronic diseases is critical. Many chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—are the leading causes of disability and/or death in the US.
There are different behaviors that can cause chronic diseases. Some of these include:
- Tobacco use (including secondhand smoke exposure)
- Excessive alcohol use
- Poor diet
- Lack of physical activity
Chronic illness can affect your physical health and quality of life in many ways. It can also impact your emotional well-being.
Race and chronic illness
Even though chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, are the leading cause of death and disability in the US—they don’t burden everyone equally.
According to WebMD, minority populations (such as Hispanic, Black, and Native American people) are two times more likely to have major chronic conditions as opposed to white people.
The reasons for this disparity span far and wide, but some major reasons chronic conditions impact minorities disproportionately include:
In the US minorities are more likely to live in poverty than white americans. Having a low income means lack of access to vital resources such as adequate healthcare and nutrition. It also induces higher levels of stress in those who suffer from poverty, making them more susceptible to chronic illness.
It’s important to recognize the higher rates of chronic diseases in minority populations is not biological. There’s no scientific evidence to show that. It is due to systemic reasons, including different political and social factors. Some of these include lack of equal education, adequate healthcare, and lack of equal employment opportunities.
All of these factors combined with historical segregation policies, have prevented Black individuals from coming into certain areas. All these factors combined drive the correlations between race and chronic illness.
People of color are disproportionately more likely to live in areas with more air pollution. Long term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic conditions such as asthma and lung cancer. This disproportionate likelihood of living in an area with polluted air, drives up the correlation between race and chronic illness.
Ways to cope with chronic illness
Coping with chronic illness can be difficult. But learning how chronic illness affects mental health and physical health can help you better manage it.
Here are some things you can do to help cope with chronic illness.
Understand how your body works.
If you have a chronic condition, you should understand how your body works so you can take steps to improve your health.
This includes understanding your symptoms, medications, treatments, and other medical procedures. You should also learn about your diagnosis and treatment options.
Know when to seek medical attention.
It’s important to know when to see a doctor. Sometimes people with chronic illnesses need to see a doctor regularly, while others only need to visit once every few months. If you think you might have an emergency, call 911 immediately.
Creating an adequate healthcare plan that involves regularly visiting your doctor is key to advocating for your own health. As a minority suffering from a chronic illness, it’s crucial you find a physician you can trust to take care of you. Checkout Connect2Heal, a medical provider directory that aims to connect patients of color with physicians of color.
Find ways to manage stress.
Stress affects everyone differently. However, there are some things you can do to reduce stress and improve your mental health.
First, try to identify the source of your stress. Is it work related? Family related? Financial related? Try to find ways to address each issue separately.
Also try implementing more stress relieving activities into your daily life. This includes meditation, deep breathing, journaling, and practicing mindfulness. Eliminating stress is key to preventing many illnesses, but especially helps you manage chronic illness and mental health.
Take care of your physical health.
If you have a chronic condition, such as asthma, arthritis, or diabetes, make sure you take good care of your body. This includes eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and managing stress. You also need to manage your medications and follow your doctor’s instructions carefully.
Practicing wellness and taking care of your body as a whole is crucial to your overall health. Checkout these tips on healthy living in order to show up as the best version of yourself.
Talk with your doctor or therapist.
It’s important to talk with your doctor or therapist about how your chronic illness affects your mental health. They can provide support and advice. Talking to someone with an unbiased opinion is crucial to processing your chronic illness.
Learning how chronic illness impacts mental health is crucial. Talking to someone can help you process the many changes happening throughout your life, and help you show up as the best version of yourself.
Looking for a therapist you can connect with?
Connect2Heal was designed to connect patients with medical and mental health providers of the same background. Sometimes talking to someone who gets where you come from culturally makes all the difference in how often you seek out care. Checkout Connect2Heal today and start taking ownership of your mental health and chronic illness.