Mental Health in Rare Disease: Taking Care of Your Mind Is Taking Care of Your Body
May 10, 2023
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Taking care of your mental health is key, whether you are the patient or caregiver.
Anxiety, stress and depression can all manifest as physical symptoms, including elevated blood pressure, forgetting to take medications, or insomnia, among many other ailments. If you are a caregiver, many in the rare disease community use the oxygen mask analogy: “Should an emergency situation occur, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help those around you.” You hear it on airplanes all the time, and it may seem selfish at the time, but think of it this way – if you’re not okay, then you can’t take care of your loved one. And you can’t be their eyes and ears at doctors appointments or for other caregivers.
Those in the rare disease community may experience a variety of mental health issues, ranging from anxiety and stress to depression. These are the most common mental health issues someone in the rare disease community may experience:
Stress affects everyone, and can cause a fight or flight reaction in the mind and body, and can make symptoms experienced in any disease worse. In those diagnosed with rare disease, stress exacerbating symptoms can be even more dangerous given the difficulties in treatment or managing symptoms. Keys to managing stress include not keeping things to yourself, seeking outlets for expressing emotions, and self-care.
Survivor’s guilt is often understood as something a car crash victim or a veteran may experience after coming back from a war. How could it affect someone who is diagnosed with a rare disease? Even when treatment is successful and the symptoms of a rare disease subside, those diagnosed with a rare disease may experience survivor’s guilt as they are thriving, and there are those who are still experiencing symptoms of their condition, or did not survive. Caregivers may experience survivor’s guilt as well, as they form bonds with other caregivers, and see the challenges that they continue to experience.
What Should You Do?
The one thing that is the same in the rare community as it is within the rare community is how to tackle mental health problems. The key is identifying that mental health conditions exist, and then finding ways to remedy those feelings, whether that it may be through therapy, support groups, medications, and talking to fellow patients and caregivers.
Managing mental health is an important part of the treatment process for someone diagnosed with a rare disease. Treatments have been proven to be more effective when the mind is in a good place, and spirits are lifted. The science is unknown, but the results are undeniable.
Rare Disease-Specific Resources
Nikki McIntosh, Founder of Rare Mamas, shared her thoughts on caregiver, self-care, and mental health.
RARE Mom & Advocate BIllie Short shares: Creating Care for the Caregiver Five Minutes at a Time
Summit Sessions about Mental Health
Several sessions at previous Patient Advocacy Summits addresses mental health and self-care. Here are the links to the session videos:
If you, or someone you know is in crisis, please seek help immediately. Some resources for 24-hour crisis services:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) can put you into contact with your local crisis center that can tell you where to seek immediate help in your area.
Text “MHA” to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line.
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