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Chronic disease and mental health

Nicole Troutman, LMSW

Are you one of the six in 10 Americans living with at least one chronic disease? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s how prevalent the many types of chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, cancer, arthritis, pain, obesity, HIV, and more, are in our communities. All affect us physically, but they may also have a significant impact on our mental and emotional health.

First diagnosis

From the moment you are first diagnosed with a chronic disease and hear the words, “You have cancer, diabetes, etc.,” all sorts of things may go through your mind. It is perfectly normal to feel a sense of despair, loss of control, anger, shock and disbelief. You may even say to yourself “why me?” But understand that it is with hope and what we do thereafter to cope with these emotions that is going to make the difference.


First, learn about your condition. Having a good understanding enables you to make informed decisions about your healthcare needs. With so many issues beyond your control, knowledge will help you feel a sense of empowerment over the condition.

When dealing with chronic disease, depression often develops. Depression may come in many forms. It could be loss or increase of appetite, insomnia, mood swings, restlessness, anger, or something different. Good techniques often recommended to help combat depression include:

  • practicing mindfulness
  • self-care
  • meditation
  • journaling
  • other healthy activities.

Exercise and meditation also help combat the stress that can also come with managing your chronic illness. Meditating for just 10 minutes a day can substantially reduce tension. Some meditation techniques include quiet reflection, deep breathing, and guided imagery. These techniques often bring relief from stressful situations. Check with your provider for exercises to help improve mood and strength to battle the chronic disease.

Other recommended coping strategies include:

  • focusing on the present and not the past
  • avoiding ruminative thoughts
  • giving yourself the opportunity to challenge negative thoughts
  • keeping your mind and self busy with hobbies, pleasurable activities, socialization, etc.
  • Look for the POSITIVES!

Having strong social support is crucial. This may come in the form of quality friends and family, church family, your medical provider, therapist, etc. A good provider can often make referrals for counseling and, when appropriate, may recommend psychotropic interventions. Behavioral health providers can offer vital support needed to cope with the challenges of a chronic disease.

Not every physical health condition can be quickly or easily resolved, but it is always appropriate to address the behavioral health issues that may arise. Addressing these aspects of a condition can greatly improve your quality of life.

Remember, you are not your disease – be yourself! The disease does not determine who you are, you do!

For more about how behavioral health providers can help you manage your chronic disease, talk to your provider today.

Nicole Troutman is a behavioral health consultant serving patients at HopeHealth in Aiken. From Batesburg, S.C., Troutman is a member of the National Association of Social Workers.



HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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HopeHealth 360 North Irby St. Florence, SC 29501 (843) 667-9414
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