The connection between long term physical illness and mental health
I’ve talked about the chronic pain I experienced here on the blog before and how it led to depression and anxiety. This is a common occurrence amongst people who suffer from persistent pain. However, depression and anxiety can also occur for those who have other chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, IBS and other digestive conditions, COPD and other respiratory disorders, cancer, and more besides.
So in this post, I’m going to talk about the connection between such chronic conditions as these and mental health issues and how hypnotherapy can help.
We’ve all probably experienced a time where we’ve had a cold or flu, and we feel quite down in ourselves. Low in our mood. Maybe we start thinking negatively. Perhaps things that are not normally a problem for us, start to feel overwhelming. All because we are unwell. With something like a cold or flu, we know that it’s just a temporary thing. In a couple of days time, the cold will be gone, we might still have a bit of a sniffle, we might have a cough that lingers, but our mood bounces back, and we can get on and do what we do day to day feeling alright, back on form.
This kind of thing happens with chronic pain and other illnesses too. However, chronic conditions hang around for a long time. It could be months, years, or even for the rest of the sufferers’ life. There isn't that belief or hope that it will get better, or that it will go soon. And those low moods and negative thoughts can become more chronic and persistent, just like the pain or illness, and develops into a completely different beast altogether. Depression!
According to King’s Health Partners Mind and Body Programme, 30% of people in England have a long term physical health condition and 30% of these people, also have a mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. In addition to this, nearly 50% of people with mental illness also have at least one long term physical condition.
So you can see that there is a strong connection between long term physical health and mental health, with each affecting the other. Physical conditions that are inflammatory, painful, or disabling are more likely to cause depression. Outcomes for physical health are reduced when a person has a mental health issue too.
When I had chronic pain, I remember reading a book on managing chronic pain from a mindfulness perspective. In the book, it discussed the two arrows, which is part of the Buddhist philosophy. When we have a chronic condition or chronic pain, it’s as if we are struck by an arrow. It hits and we experience that pain and what's going on with that. It’s not great but we can manage it. But for some people, they get hit by a second arrow too. That second arrow is all the thoughts, beliefs and worries that we have about that original arrow. It’s the behaviour changes and unhelpful coping mechanisms that we carry out because of the original arrow. And that just compounds the problem and makes it so much worse to be able to manage and deal with it on a day to day basis. It’s the second arrow that finishes us off. It all gets on top of us, and we can develop depression and/or anxiety. But we can control that second arrow! We can choose whether it hits us or not, by controlling our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
This philosophy is also seen in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, with the ABC model. Quite often people think that A=C, that the chronic illness (A) causes the anxiety or depression (C), when actually it is more likely AxB=C, that it is their chronic illness (A), multiplied by their beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and ideas surrounding that illness (B) that creates the anxiety or depression (C).
Hypnotherapy can help people who are suffering from a chronic illness and a mental health issue combined. Of course, hypnotherapy cannot get rid of a medical condition (A) per se, like asthma or diabetes or any of those kinds of physical conditions. But it can help with so much that surrounds that issue (B) which in turn helps you manage the physical condition so much better and potentially improve the frequency and/or severity of the condition, depending on its nature.