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20.03.20

How to help patients manage the psychology of chronic conditions

Indie Dhariwal, Wellbeing Facilitator at Living Well Taking Control

Living with a chronic condition puts huge pressure on both the body and mind. Not only can it prevent patients from doing activities they used to enjoy, but in many cases, patients suffer psychological distress. Considering how difficult and disabling chronic conditions can be, it’s no surprise that people with these conditions are two to three times more likely than the general population to suffer from depression.

Chronic conditions don’t just affect a small part of the population.

According to the UK Department of Health, around 15 million people in England or 30 per cent of the population have one or more long-term conditions (2011). As chronic or long-term conditions can be difficult to treat, often healthcare professional must help manage the symptoms, so quality of life is sustained. But how can healthcare professionals help manage the mental health of patients living with chronic conditions?

Ongoing support

Patients with chronic conditions need ongoing support, support which the healthcare system has been historically slow to provide. But today there are a number of organisations dedicated to providing support. Health Exchange CIC provides one such service.

They work with the NHS and other healthcare bodies to provide specialist services such as social prescribing, diabetes and mental health support. Working as an extension of GP practices, patients can be referred to a wide range of support services from one-to-one meetings to group sessions. As a result of this, patients can feel better, improve their self-esteem and confidence once more.

The power of lifestyle intervention

As we know, some chronic conditions and the mental health issues associated with them can’t always be treated through and support. Thankfully some conditions like Type 2 diabetes can be placed in remission with proper management – offering patients improved quality of life and following mental resilience. According to new NHS figures, there are 1,969,610 patients registered with a GP who have non-diabetic hyperglycaemia or prediabetes.

In my role as a health facilitator I see hundreds of patients at risk of Type 2 diabetes in a group classroom setting. Through educational support, there can be a catalyst for behavioural lifestyle change for the patients. Through moving more and eating a balanced diet, patients see a great boost in the mental health.

Fostering mental resilience

Holding specific mental health sessions for patients is one effective way of offering support. This is also a crucial part of the programme that I work on – patients are given tips to manage their mental health and to feel good about themselves and their health journey.

To help patients develop positive thinking patterns we get patients to write down positive affirmations. By focussing on the positive aspects of life it encourages a way of thinking that patients might not have experienced in the past.

Coping with stress, chronic conditions and managing the pressure can be dependent on the support of those who surround us. That’s why patients should be able to bring close friends or family members to their sessions so they can be foster resilience together.

Help them make a start

To begin a programme which supports mental and physical health takes courage. It’s a difficult commitment, which often comes from years in the making. Healthcare professionals should consider this when offering support services to their patients.  

For some patients sadly no amount of efforts can ensure they can cope well with chronic conditions. But there is hope for patients who feel able to make a start. Through being mindful of patients’ background and overall health condition, healthcare professionals can give advice and recommend the right service or support for each individual patient.

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