The Mind Matters in Onset and Management of Our Chronic Illnesses

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Mind plays a role in the onset of many chronic illnesses and also in the course such an illness takes.  Mind affects the outcome of a chronic illness, as well.  In the face of an illness that has to come to stay for life, our mind will, to some extent, determine how well we would perform the activities of daily living and the quality of social and emotional life we would live.  Even though the physical disease may not be reversed, adaptive coping and positive management style can change the way we experience symptoms and how disabled we become.  

 Over two hundred studies show that psychological help reduces medical visits and saves cost on medical procedures.  Between sixty to seventy percent of medical visits are considered stress-related or related to non-specific problems that do not have an identifiable medical disorder.  This article presents a composite of several studies that show an interesting link between emotional  disorders and chronic illness.    

 An analysis of one hundred studies suggests that people who experience chronic anxiety, depression and pessimism, hostility and cynicism have double the risk of diseases such as, asthma, arthritis, ulcers, and heart disease.  One particular long-term study of college graduates found that optimistic men were physically healthier and had fewer chronic illnesses in later life than the more pessimistic counterparts of theirs.

 Women with a history of depression have 15% less bone density than non-depressed women of same age.  This has significant implications for osteoporosis and its crippling effect in later life.  Bone loss, needless to say, is the critical factor in osteoporosis.  

 Poor social support is associated with a higher rate of premature death from any reason.  One study suggests that inadequate social support is responsible for twice the overall rate of premature death.   

 Women younger than forty-five who are divorced, separated, or widowed have significantly higher levels of total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol than married women. Single men have higher incidence of illnesses than married men.  Elderly single males have higher incidence of alcoholism, depression, and death than elderly men living with a partner.  

 Men with high hostility are seven times more likely to die within twenty-five years from any cause than are less hostile men.  Furthermore, reducing anger and hostility appears to reduce the risk of recurrent heart attack.  Chronically tense, nervous, and anxious people who have cardiac arrhythmia have two to six times greater risk of dying from a heart attack than those who don't have an anxiety disorder.  

 Like anxiety, depression too is a big culprit.  For patients who already had a heart attack, depression was associated more closely to future heart problems than the severity of artery damage, high cholesterol level, or cigarette smoking.  In heart attack survivors, depression tripled the risk of dying within six months. 

 People who are wealthy, well-educated, and have a high-status, have fewer chronic illnesses than do those who are poor, less educated, and hold a blue collar job.  Sounds awfully discriminatory, but it is the reality of the world we live in.     

 "Health pessimists" who thought their health was poor despite a clean bill of health from their doctors had a slightly greater risk of dying than the health optimists.  "Health optimists," who viewed themselves in good health, even though their doctors' reports said their health was poor, had a slightly lower risk of dying. 

 If patients with arthritic knee pain are also depressed, their discomfort and limitations in day to day functioning are likely to be greater than nondepressed patients with arthritic knee.  In fact, depression is a better predictor than an X-ray of a damaged knee to predict the extent of disability and pain in the future.  Patients with arthritis who attended a self-help support group experienced, on average, 20% less pain than the arthritic patients who didn't.  

 In one study, women with advanced breast cancer who attended a therapeutic support group in addition to receiving standard medical care, lived twice longer than women in similar condition who received only the standard medical care.  Note that these women had metastasized cancer, that is,  that cancer has spread throughout their bodies and yet a Psychosocial support group doubled their lives.  To realize the full impact of this study, think of such a support group as the "magic pill" that just hit the market that can double the lives of patients. Beside, doubling the length of life, subjective reports of the women with breast cancer suggest that the support group also improves the quality of their life

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor