What to do when your chronic condition has you down

Patients living with chronic conditions often battle stress, anxiety and depression.

Does your chronic disease or condition have you feeling down? You aren’t alone.

I’ve always had a severe case of psoriasis, which has left 80 to 90 percent of my body covered with plaques. At one point, all I could do was cry. Every day. I was smiling on the outside, but crying on the inside.

Psoriasis is a condition that has seriously affected my quality of life. I used to always say that no one understood what I was going through. People don’t understand what it feels like to have friends, and once they see your condition, they shy away. It makes for a lonely life.

If you have plaques all over you, you deal with the stares — people pointing and judging you. No one can understand the pain of having someone tell you that you’re dirty because you have psoriasis or being asked to leave a swimming pool. I used to be scared to go outside because I knew I would be judged by the outside world.

When I look back over the younger years of my life, I try to put things together. I have always wondered how my psoriasis could affect how I was feeling on the inside. We know now that there’s a link between chronic diseases and mental health. A new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that psoriasis patients diagnosed with depression were 37% more likely to also develop psoriatic arthritis.

“There is a tendency to think of depression as a purely ‘psychological’ or ’emotional’ issue, but it also has physical effects and changes in inflammatory and immune markers have been reported in depressed people,” Dr. Scott Patten of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary in Alberta, tells Science Daily.

He adds, “Depression may be a risk factor for a variety of chronic conditions and this research is an example of how big data approaches can identify these associations.”

Insurance barriers to access only make our anxiety, depression and stress worse

As patients living with a chronic disease or condition, we often become so focused on the physical symptoms that we neglect our mental or emotional needs. Depression, anxiety and stress are not only common for chronic disease patients, but these problems are made worse by insurance barriers to accessing the right treatment.

“It’s not easy going through the process and dealing with all of that,” Crystal Jackson, a patient living with psoriasis, says of the stress brought on by her paperwork battles. “It’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression.”

With autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis, insurance barriers contribute to a vicious cycle. Our body’s compromised immune system can’t fight back. We need medication that will help give us back our strength, but to access that medication means a stressful fight with our insurance company.

That’s what makes insurance barriers to access so cruel. By denying patients access to the right treatment at the right time, our chronic condition gets worse.

6 Ways to Overcome Depression Linked to a Chronic Condition

It took me years to get to a good spot in my life. I had to get emotionally stable. Once I got there, I was able to handle things a lot differently. I could handle the stares and the pointing. Now, if you’re pointing or staring, that’s my chance to educate you. I’m not contagious. You don’t have to be afraid.

Here are a few ways to help overcome depression, stress and anxiety linked to a chronic disease or condition.

  1. Find Help: Find someone that is going through the same thing as you. They will understand your struggles. It’s also great to lend an ear.
  2. Fight Back Against Insurance Barriers: If your depression is exacerbated by an insurance denial, fight back. Connect with patient advocates, such as Patients Rising, which can help teach you how to overcome insurance barriers. You’ll find power and strength in telling your story.
  3. Focus on Your Health: Make your health a priority. “The most obvious way to overcome depression with psoriasis is for the condition to improve,” patient Howard Chang says. “If my condition improves, then depression will naturally become less of an issue.”
  4. Seek Professional Guidance: If you find that you are sad, low spirits, grumpy, down in the dumps, and just don’t feel like yourself; see a doctor immediately. Depression is a medical condition that requires treatment.
  5. Attend a Support Group: You can also attend a support group for help. They are confidential. What is shared there, stays there. People there know what you are dealing with and can give you the support that you need.
  6. Go OnlineChronic disease patients are also supporting each other online. For patients living in rural communities, the web might be the best way to connect with other patients. You may even become a “spoonie.”

I was diagnosed with psoriasis in 1963. Things look so much brighter these days for new patients getting this disease due to improved treatments that have come down the pipeline in the past 10 years. Patients have a better quality of life because of this. Even though we have focus on the physical part of this for the past 50 years, there is still much to do on the emotional well-being.

About the Author: Diane Talbert

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