Addressing the Psychological Impact of Chronic, Non-Life Threatening Medical Conditions

Chronic medical conditions come with a wide range of adjustments, ranging  from the physical and practical to the social and emotional. Certainly those that are life-threatening bring a great amount of psychological consequence. But those that are not life-threatening can also diminish quality of life, especially when symptoms of the condition disrupt social interaction or confidence. For example, a new survey of patients with severe psoriasis finds that, for 50% of these patients, fear of what others think has a greater impact on their lives than the physical elements of the condition itself. A quarter have been diagnosed with depression (with one-fifth of those cases have been directly attributed to the skin condition). And 63% of the patients reported lowered feelings of self-worth because of their condition.

These figures document that psoriasis’s emotional impact is a very real part of living with the condition, yet it’s not something that most patients feel comfortable talking about. Less than one third “feel able to communicate openly” about the disease’s impact on their life, and fewer than half have spoken with their healthcare provider about these concerns. Earlier this year, dermatologists were surveyed, and only 1 in 5 thought that minimizing psoriasis’ psychological impact was an important part of managing the condition.

This disconnect expands well beyond psoriasis. Dozens of medical conditions, both chronic and temporary, can impacts a person’s confidence in social situations or comfort with their appearance. While therapy and counseling cannot alter the physical symptoms of a medical condition, therapists can help patients learn healthy ways of dealing with the psychological fallout. But it needs to start with awareness in the doctor’s office. Medical practitioners must recognize the emotional impact of a condition and be willing to refer patients to a counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional equipped to address the non-medical elements of living with a medical condition.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cooper

    Cooper

    November 7th, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    Just being unwell makes me feel uncomfortable about the situation and makes me think of myself as someone abnormal.Certainly these kind of diseases can really make a person feel low and feel like he is not normal and can serious jeopardize his relationship with others.

  • shana

    shana

    November 7th, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    It has been a very hard adjustment getting used to living life with lupus. On the one hand I am so grateful to fianally have a diagnosis but on the other it feels like it takes away so much of my energy and health that I am mad much of the time for what it has taken from me in terms of quality of life. That has been a tough adjustment to make.

  • Christine

    Christine

    November 8th, 2010 at 5:43 AM

    It is interesting that you chose psoriasis because my daughter has this and I cannot tell you how many times she has come home from social situations crying because someone may have made a comment about her skin and the looks of the skin and it just would crush her. As she has gotten older she has gotten a little more used to it and happily the condition is under control now better that it has been for a long time but it hurts me so much to think back and know how many times her days were ruined by this that seems so benign but really has hurt her in ways that I think that most of us could never be able to understand.

  • Chelsea

    Chelsea

    November 8th, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    It’s understandable, as teenagers want so much to belong.

  • HoMeR

    HoMeR

    November 8th, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    Having a grand parent with just the usual old-people medication and everything itself seems like a big deviation from the normal working of the house. All the taking care, someone always being there with her and the medication and other things do bring about a change in everybody’s lives.

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