Mental Health Symptoms: The Hidden Demon On The Shoulder Of Invisible Illness

With the month of May being declared Mental Health Month, I feel it’s a good time for me to revisit the topic myself. I talk frequently about about the mental health issues that go along with Multiple Sclerosis. Anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and even depression and thoughts of suicide are just some of the areas I’ve discussed (I even did a video!). These are all issues I deal with often. They are also all problems that many others confide to me about in private. Mental health symptoms are the hidden demon looking over the shoulder of our invisible illness. They can be ever present, yet never spoken of because of social stigmas. Mental health is an extremely important area of treating Multiple Sclerosis, one that is too often ignored. One that needs to be brought up as much as possible. It’s OK and important to discuss these issues.

The relationship between physical and mental health

As much as I talk about mental health symptoms, I feel I can’t discuss them enough. I suffer from some of these symptoms, primarily anxiety and depression. These are symptoms that seem to creep into my life when I least expect it (you know, kind of like every other MS symptom). Some of my anxiety and depression is no doubt related directly to my MS. There has been some damage, some myelin worn down, in areas of my brain that causes them. In addition to that, the very stresses of having chronic illness are enough to trigger these changes in my body. That’s kind of the key here, mental health symptoms are caused by changes in our body, physical, biological changes. Changes that you can’t control by simply being more positive or taking a walk in the woods.

You are not "crazy"

If there is one thing I wish I could get people to understand, it’s that mental symptoms, whether caused directly by MS or from our body’s response to MS, are still symptoms to be dealt with like any other. You are not “crazy” because you suffer from these problems, just like you aren’t “crazy” because your legs won’t work. It’s not all “in your head”, well, in a certain way, it is, just not in the way people normally mean when they say that phrase. There probably is some damage up there, but it is not imaginary in any way. If you’d go to physical therapy to help your legs, then you should have no issues seeing a mental health professional about your anxiety or depression. These are valid symptoms and need to be dealt with as such, without any shame.

The hidden nature of these symptoms

It’s easy to push these issues off or try to hide them. So many people still have misconceptions about mental health. Those misconceptions make it far too difficult to talk about and seek help from our symptoms. It doesn’t help that many of our physical symptoms can be considered “invisible” by others. The hidden nature of those symptoms and the way people react to them certainly has an effect on how we treat our mental health symptoms. It’s hard enough explaining fatigue to someone, let alone trying to explain why I’m so anxious when my routine gets messed up.

It takes a team to fight MS

I will try to keep this short, but I wanted to again remind everyone that mental health is important. I want to remind you that there should be no shame about having anxiety or feeling depressed. We need to all band together and help end the stigma about discussing these issues. I also want to reiterate that I feel it’s extremely important for those with MS to have a mental health professional. Fighting Multiple Sclerosis requires more than a good neurologist. It takes a team of speech, physical, occupational, and mental health therapists as well.

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