Chronic Health & Your Emotional Wellbeing

by Stacey Koniw, Clinical Psychologist

Many Australians are currently living with one or more chronic and complex health conditions which can cause mental health distress and impacts on quality of life. These conditions include but are not limited to:

  • Cancer

  • Kidney Disease

  • Type 1 and 2 Diabetes

  • Cardiovascular Disease

  • Lung and Respiratory conditions

  • Neurological and Musculoskeletal conditions

  • Inflammatory Bowel and Liver Disease

Some of these conditions can be life-threatening and others require ongoing management from a multidisciplinary team, including mental health support from a Clinical Psychologist.

A diagnosis of a chronic illness can be sudden, confronting, stressful/traumatic and can cause shock, disbelief, grief, anger, fear, worry and guilt related to the diagnosis. It can also lead to questions such as:

“Why me?”     

“How will I cope?”    

“What does this mean for my future?”.

Impact on Mental Health

Although these feelings and questions can be normal, some individuals may notice:

  • energy, sleep, appetite and substance use changes;
  • social isolation or dependence;
  • challenges with finances/work; and
  • symptoms related to Adjustment, Anxiety or Depressive Disorders.

Some may avoid adherence to medical advice or notice a strong focus on symptoms, fear of complications, treatment or dying and frequent need for medical attention through their GP or Emergency Department.

The Clinical Psychologist’s Role

The role of a Clinical Psychologist in this area can be from a multi-dimensional approach. A common therapy “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” has a growing body of evidence that supports its application in aiding illness management. CBT focuses on targeting an individual’s unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviours which can lead to positive and lasting change with health-related coping and wellbeing.

This approach involves identifying, reframing and challenging negative/unhelpful thought patterns, and learning more helpful skills to change and enhance quality of life and disease management. CBT also includes tailored strategies relating to self-advocacy skills, problem-solving, relaxation training, and other lifestyle self-management skills.

To access psychological support, you can: