Suffering from a Chronic Disease? Don't Neglect Your Emotional Well-Being

From the GIC Fall 2007 Newsletter pdf format of fybfall2007.pdf

You've just been delivered a blow and life as you've known it has been turned upside down. Your doctor has informed you that you have a chronic illness, a medical condition lasting more than three months. Whether you've been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, asthma, or another chronic condition, the emotional turmoil exacted may be a roller coaster ride. Denial, sadness, depression and/or anger are common responses to a chronic disease diagnosis.

Managing these emotions will affect your ability to cope with the disease and improve your quality of life. As many as 50 percent of individuals with chronic illnesses are estimated to have some sort of behavioral health issue, according to a recent study commissioned by United Behavioral Health, one of the GIC's major mental health benefit managers. The prevalence of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in the population with chronic conditions is two to three times that in the general population:

Chronic Medical Condition

% treated for depression/anxiety

% with depression/anxiety







Chronic pain



Diabetes Mellitus






Coronary Artery Disease



Cancer (malignant)



Source: 2006 Milliman, Inc. research study of U.S. health care data

Depressive symptoms, such as significant weight loss or gain, sleep disturbance, low energy, apathy, and poor concentration, mimic symptoms of the chronic condition or side effects of medications for the disease. As a result, they go unidentified or may not be treated. Getting help for your emotional needs is critical for avoiding and minimizing complications of your medical condition, and will help you comply with the medication and lifestyle modifications prescribed by your doctor.

Patients' and their caregivers' stress can wear down the cardiovascular system, immune system, and gastrointestinal system, contributing to an increased risk or worsening of heart disease, migraines, asthma, diabetes, ulcers, cancer, and general health deterioration. If you are experiencing any of the following, for two weeks or more, consult your physician or mental health professional. ( Note: If you have thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately!):

  • Persistent sad or anxious mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, especially those that used to give you pleasure
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or worthless
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive crying

Your health plan can refer you to a mental health professional if you wish to see one. Your doctor will assess your emotional state carefully and review your personal and family health histories. If the depressive symptoms are the direct result of your physical illness or of side effects of medications, your doctor may adjust or change your treatment regimen for the other illness. If depression is a separate health problem, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional, who can prescribe antidepressant medications and provide psychotherapy or other treatments.

If you are a member of any of the Commonwealth Indemnity Plans or Navigator/Spirit by Tufts Health Plan, take advantage of Beacon Health Strategies' Employee Assistance Program benefits, which can help you with stress related to financial or legal ramifications of your illness. If you are in another GIC health plan, contact your plan to find out what types of mental health service resources are available. Support groups for your medical condition, either in person or in online chat rooms, offer another valuable source of information and support. Ask your doctor or mental health provider for the names of reputable support groups for your condition.

This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission .