Chronic Health Conditions Can Affect Your Mental Health

More than half of all American adults have at least one chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, lung or kidney disease, or a chronic mental illness such as depression. A chronic condition lasts for more than a year and requires ongoing medical care. It may also limit your daily activities.

If you have a chronic health condition, it can be comforting to know that many other people do, too. But living with a chronic health condition can take a physical, psychological, and emotional toll on your health, especially if you have multiple chronic health conditions.

The Physical Health/Mental Health Connection

Having a chronic health condition is a risk factor for anxiety and depression. In fact, 51 percent of people living with Parkinson’s disease, 42 percent of people diagnosed with cancer, and 27 percent of people with diabetes have depression. Nearly one in five people who have had a heart attack or heart disease also have depression. Chronic health conditions can affect your attitude, mood, and sense of certainty about the future. They can also make you doubt what you’re capable of physically.

When people feel limited in their ability to participate in social or recreational activities, they often become reclusive, lonely, or hopeless. They might develop poor eating or sleeping habits, which worsens their health. It’s common for people to focus so much on their physical condition that they don’t get the mental health support they need.

“Chronic health conditions and mental health diagnoses often go hand in hand,” says Dr. Luz Ramos, Medical Care Director for Clinical Care Transformation at Independence Blue Cross. “When someone is dealing with these challenges, their low mental and physical states can create a negative cycle, making it harder to take care of their health.”

Overcoming Chronic Health Challenges

Living with a chronic health condition can be difficult, but you don’t have to face it alone. Most chronic health conditions, whether physical or mental, can be managed.

“Sometimes, the biggest challenge people face is knowing where to start and who to reach out to,” says Dr. Ramos. “The best place to start is with a primary care provider who can look at your chronic conditions and mental health hand in hand. They can send you to specialists for any follow-ups needed, and help you navigate through the complex health care system – both for physical and mental health needs.”

There are other ways people living with chronic health conditions can improve their well-being. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests the following:

  • Exercise regularly. Being active doesn’t have to mean training for a marathon or lifting heavy weights. Thirty minutes of walking every day can boost your mood and health.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Good food choices can improve energy, mood, and health outcomes.
  • Get enough sleep. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule and getting enough rest is important for your mental, physical, and emotional health. When you’re well-rested, you can take better care of yourself.
  • Practice gratitude. Reminding yourself daily about the things you are grateful for can have positive effects on your mental health.
  • Stay connected. Spending time with loved ones who provide emotional and practical support can improve your well-being.

Many hospitals and patient organizations also offer online or in-person support groups where people with the same health condition can share their experiences and find helpful resources as well as a sense of community. For some, it can also be meaningful and empowering to participate in fundraising walks, research advocacy, or other activities that support those affected by the condition.

“While living with chronic health conditions can be challenging, it’s important to understand that health and medical care should always focus on the whole person,” says Dr. Ramos. “Physical and mental health are connected, and by taking care of one, you can take care of the other.”

For resources on chronic health conditions, visit:

For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.