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Coping With Chronic Illness: 4 Reasons Mental Health Care Is Vital

If you have a chronic illness, you may dedicate most of your time and resources to your physical symptoms but neglect the psychological aspects of your illness. Making your mental health a priority can be equally as important as medical care to manage your illness.

Working Through Grief

The need for counseling and support throughout the grieving process is typically associated with the loss of a loved one, or to a lesser extent, the loss of a job or relationship. Grief is a common and expected result of facing a chronic illness, even if the illness itself is not terminal. Many chronic illnesses take a physical toll on your body, beyond what anyone can observe. The effects on relationships, hobbies and your job can also be psychologically damaging.

When a chronic illness causes significant changes in your life, many of the feelings you experience are not unlike the stages of grief associated with terminal illness or bereavement. The purpose of seeking professional help is not to avoid these feelings, but to address your feelings and find ways of coping and reaching acceptance. Finding ways to accept your illness and any long-term changes in your body does not mean you will never experience negative feelings. Acceptance can help you overcome challenges in a constructive manner and find ways to adapt to your changing needs.

Taking Off The Mask

If your illness does not have obvious, external symptoms, you may find that other people do not take your illness seriously. You may be invested in keeping your feelings and symptoms a secret, either out of pride or out of necessity. Many people go the extra mile to look "put together" even if they were violently ill the night before, and may fake a smile to avoid disappointing others or losing relationships. Simply having a neutral outlet where you can be honest about your problems can prevent a psychological breakdown from the burden of pretending.

Educating Those Around You

A common problem for many people with chronic illnesses is having family or friends that are unsupportive and possibly insulting, because they may accuse you of lying or exaggerating your problems. This is not only offensive, but can strain relationships. Finding the right counseling or support group can give you the confidence and know-how to approach the people closest to you and talk about your feelings.

Both counselors and other medical professionals who are part of your care team may be willing to talk to your loved ones about your condition. Sometimes people are more receptive to information when it comes from professionals. Allow a friend or family member to attend an appointment if they trivialize the severity of your illness. Members of your care team can discuss how the illness or treatments affect your health.

Avoiding Exacerbated Symptoms

By neglecting your psychological well-being, you increase the likelihood of exacerbating your current symptoms and making your medical problems worse. Both anxiety and depression can increase pain, affect your sleep and possibly make any treatments you are currently taking less effective. Furthermore, you may develop new problems, such as gastrointestinal irritation or stress-related changes in cardiovascular health.

Many people avoid talking about feelings of anxiety or depression because they are concerned medical professionals will believe their illness is psychogenic. Certain neurotransmitters, especially norepinephrine, can play a key role in nerve pain and the way your body responds to pain. Due to the pain-reducing capabilities, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are prescribed for some types of chronic pain, or to treat both pain and depression.

Neglecting the psychological toll of a chronic illness can prevent you from living the best life possible in the face of adversity. You should actively seek out counseling services just as you would be proactive in managing your illness.