The Psychological Impacts of Heart Conditions

An estimated 1.2 million Australian adults had a condition related to heart or vascular disease in 2017-2018, many of whom were over the age of 75. People with physiological conditions such as diabetes have high psychological distress, and often develop mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Similarly, heart disease and other coronary conditions are also linked with stress and depression.

Heart Disease & Depression

It has often been thought that depression is a risk factor for heart disease, and if the depression is treated, the risk will be reduced. Studies have shown that those with symptoms of depression or a depressive disorder have a 64% greater risk of developing heart disease, and 59% of those people have a higher risk of having a heart attack. Inversely, depression in those with heart disease can worsen the condition and increase the chances of a cardiac event.

The symptoms of heart disease can also be affected by mental health. Angina is not a disease in itself, but it can be a symptom of coronary heart disease. Stress can cause a rise in heart rate and increase the likelihood of having an angina attack. Similarly, stress itself can bring on heart disease and angina, making it extremely important to improve your mental wellbeing overall.  

Stroke & Mental Health

A stroke is caused by a blood clot blocking an artery to the brain, and it can cause paralysis, slurred speech and mood changes. The many physical impacts of a stroke are among the first to be treated, but the mental impacts are often neglected.

According to the National Stroke Audit Rehabilitation Report, one third of stroke rehabilitation centres do not have the services required to address the psychological effects. However, 50% of stroke patients had problems with low mood. Good mental health is vital for living well after a stroke, and it can help patients to feel less isolated and fearful. It can also help patients feel more confident about their physical rehabilitation, which can be a lengthy and emotional process.

Emotional Impacts

Living with a heart condition or experiencing the aftermath of a stroke can be an emotional time for you and your family. Adaptations may have to be made to the home and to your lifestyle, and this can be distressing. It is common to focus on physical recovery after a cardiac event, but people can often experience low moods, fear for the future and uncertainty. Some may feel isolated and lonely as they recover.

The important thing is to seek help to cope with the emotional ups and downs, and talk with friends and family. Request help from your doctor, or ask for a referral to a counsellor to manage your mental health before it becomes too difficult to cope.  

Taking care of your heart by making some lifestyle changes can also help your mental health improve. Some simple dietary adaptations and light exercise, if possible, can improve mood significantly, as well as prevent heart conditions from worsening.

This article was kindly written and contributed by Cassie Steele.

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