Mental Problems due to Physical Illness

One or more psychological conditions resulting from a physical illness

  • Unsettled domestic or financial circumstances are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Changes in mental state are a common response to a physical illness. A serious physical illness may cause anxiety (see Anxiety disorders), depression, anger, or denial of the problem. Usually, reactions are transient and disappear when the person adjusts to the change in his or her physical condition. However, illnesses that may be fatal or long-term disorders that involve lengthy treatment or continued disability may cause persistent mood problems. People who have had previous psychiatric disorders are more at risk, as are people who are under additional stress, such as from an unstable home life or financial problems, or those who find it hard to deal with adversity.

Mood problems are sometimes a recognized symptom of a physical illness. For example, anxiety is a symptom of the hormonal disorder hyperthyroidism, and depression is associated with strokes, multiple sclerosis, and also Parkinson’s disease (see Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism).

What are the symptoms?

The psychological symptoms that may result from a physical illness include:

  • Feelings of anxiety, ranging from mild apprehension to fear and panic.

  • Depressive symptoms, such as a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness.

  • Irritability and anger.

In extreme cases, there may be social withdrawal and drug or alcohol abuse.

What might be done?

If your doctor thinks you are at risk of developing a psychological problem as a result of illness, you will be offered support and counselling to help you adjust. If there are signs that you are avoiding coming to terms with an illness, your doctor will encourage you to ask questions and talk about possible anxieties. Home and work problems may be discussed, and your doctor will want to know if you have a history of depression or anxiety disorders.

A person who has developed psychological problems as a result of illness may not be aware of the fact, and a family member or friend may first contact the doctor on his or her behalf. The doctor may prescribe antidepressant drugs. Less commonly, an antianxiety drug may be given for a short time. The person may be referred to a psychologist, who will encourage a problem-solving approach to illness that concentrates on seeking solutions rather than focusing on difficulties.

The outlook for a mental problem resulting from physical illness depends on how well the person develops an ability to cope with the demands of his or her illness. Given continued support, most people are able to recognize and deal with mood problems, which gradually diminish as a result.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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