The Impact of Chronic Illness on Mental Health

With most chronic illness comes some form of chronic pain. The problem with chronic pain is that to cope with constant pain, our brain finds ways to ‘ignore’ it. When you stub your toe the pain you immediately feel is intense and loud. You have no option but to experience it and note it. When you live with chronic pain, you end up failing to consciously recognise the pain, yet the effects (exhaustion, under-performing muscles, over-compensations) are still at play. Exhaustion alone plays a huge role in mental health.

When you experience pain, your brain produces serotonin which acts as a natural pain reliever. This is wonderful when you’ve stubbed your toe. However, the brain doesn’t distinguish between acute and chronic pain, so your spinal chord is flooded with serotonin on an ongoing basis. This has been shown to lead to even more pain signals, worsening your experience of the pain. This is how chronic pain can alter the levels of these important neurotransmitters in the brain, contributing to mental health issues. Additionally, chronic illnesses like Lyme Disease can directly interfere with these neurotransmitters.

The final physical impact of chronic illness on mental health is insomnia. Much like the serotonin example above, insomnia may be a result of chronic pain, a direct result of the illness or the medication being taken. Insomnia is widely known to affect mental health, even in people without another chronic health condition.

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