Aging, Physical Disabilities, and Mental Health

December 14, 2017

Did you know that a person with a chronic physical condition has an increased chance of experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety? Having mental and physical health conditions at the same time can noticeably diminish your quality of life and extend the length and severity of both illnesses.

Illnesses feed one another

Physical and mental conditions are not completely separate issues. For example, pain leads to inactivity, which can lead to weight gain. There can be a snowball effect of social isolation, work issues, and worries about money. It’s no wonder depression and anxiety build up under these conditions.

Don’t ignore these additional symptoms because they are “just in your head.” If left untreated, depression and anxiety can get worse. The unfortunate reality is that half of all primary care physicians miss the depression, according to the Older Women’s League.

So, why should we bother?

Studies show that 8 out of 10 people with co-existing physical and mental health conditions, who are properly treated, show improvement in signs and symptoms of depression.

Many of the principles of tracking physical ailments apply to mental health. Get to know yourself by charting your day-to-day symptoms and treatments. See if you can find a pattern to what makes you feel better or worse. For example, a couple of poor nights’ sleep can increase symptoms of depression. If you plot this on a mood chart, you’ll be able to see the pattern.

This chart, the NIMH-LCM™, created by the National Institute of Mental Health was created for people who experience the highs and lows of Bipolar Disorder; however, it can be easily adapted by skipping the sections that don’t apply to you.

Here are some things you can do to proactively improve your mental and physical health:

  • Talk to your doctor if you are feeling tired, hopeless, or irritable more than occasionally.
  • Ask for a second opinion if the doctor is not responsive to your concerns. Sometimes you have to advocate for yourself.
  • Work with a therapist. Most mental health issues are not “cured” by medication alone. Studies show a combination of medication and therapy produce the best results.
  • Try to get more exercise. Find an exercise partner or a trainer.
  • Take advantage of meetups and other social outlets to find like-minded people to avoid isolation.
  • Try meditation or yoga.
  • Volunteer. Sometimes action leads to motivation. Get started even if you don’t feel up to it. Eventually, will experience the benefits that will spur you on. Volunteering to help others is big, because it takes the focus away from your pain.

You may find that it takes a lot of effort to help yourself feel better. Just remember that you don’t have to suffer in silence. There is help available. Call the Senior LinkAge Line® at 1-800-333-2433 or visit www.MinnesotaHelp.Info® for information and resources.

The Senior LinkAge Line® is a free and impartial resource made possible by funding from the Older Americans Act through the Minnesota Board on Aging in partnership with Minnesota's Area Agencies on Aging.