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How living with a long-term condition can affect your mental health

June 26, 2023

From measuring blood sugar levels to non-stop carb counting, living with diabetes can be all-consuming and overwhelming. The 12th - 18th June was Diabetes Week, which celebrated the 4.3 million people who live with diabetes in the UK and recognised how difficult it can be to manage this on-going condition.

Diabetes Week got us thinking about everyone living with a long-term condition and the impact this can have on their mental health. A long-term condition is an illness, like diabetes, that can’t be cured but can be managed through treatment. According to research, 30% of all people with a long-term condition also struggle with their mental health. There are different reasons for this and they vary from person to person.

Long-term conditions come with certain hardships; everyday activities, like working, socialising and travelling might be more difficult. For example, a dinner out with friends isn’t necessarily straightforward for someone with diabetes who must be conscious of what they eat and when.

Complications like this can make people with health issues more worried about certain situations, and as a result, they may stop putting themselves out there and struggle to enjoy their lives to the fullest. This can create feelings of frustration, stress and social isolation, which overtime can impact our mental health.

Facing stigma and discrimination can add to these feelings. When judgements are made about a person with a long-term condition and they are treated differently because of this, it can cause them to feel undervalued or ashamed. This might shake their confidence or lower their self-esteem.

That’s not to mention how the physical symptoms of a long-term condition can impact your mental health. Pain and discomfort are bound to take a toll on someone’s mood, while never-ending appointments and living in fear of flare ups can also add to a person’s stress levels.

Whilst it’s understandable that living with a long-term condition can affect your emotional wellbeing, this doesn’t mean that poor mental health is inevitable and for those that find that their mental health is being impacted, there are ways to support yourself.

How CBT can help

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that can be used to support people living with a long-term condition. CBT will focus on the specific ways that your health struggles are impacting you, helping you to come to terms with your diagnosis and help you to adapt to life with a long-term condition. Here are some of the exercises that we cover in CBT…

1. Notice your thoughts and feelings

Think about how your diagnosis makes you feel. Does it change how you see yourself? Are you angry or frustrated at how it impacts your life? Does it make you feel self-conscious around others? It’s important that you acknowledge your emotions and understand where they’re coming from so that you can process and manage them.

2. Realise what you can control about the situation

Living with a long-term condition can make you feel less in control of certain situations. For example, you may worry about feeling suddenly unwell while you’re out with friends, or visiting a restaurant that can’t accommodate your needs.

Instead of dwelling on this, why not make a list of the things you can control? Perhaps you could bring additional medication with you, research how accessible a venue is before going there or make someone you’re with aware of your situation.

3. Be mindful of your inner voice

How we speak to ourselves can affect mood, so it’s important that we practise self-compassion. One way to develop a kinder internal voice is to ask yourself how you would speak to a friend going through the same thing and try to replicate this.

At ieso, our expert therapists offer online CBT for a range of mental health issues and can help you to develop coping strategies, whatever you’re going through. Find out more on our website.

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This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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