Being diagnosed with a chronic medical condition is an extremely stressful event in a person’s life. It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed and out of control during the initial diagnosis stage.
Whether it’s heart disease, diabetes or any other condition, a chronic medical diagnosis often means you’ll need to take strong measures in order to manage your health moving forward. But it’s not only your physical health that is impacted.
Living with a chronic medical condition can impose a variety of stressors and restrictions upon your day-to-day life, which can result in mental health challenges as well. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s estimated that one-third of people diagnosed with a chronic medical condition will also suffer from symptoms of depression.
By taking the right steps early on, you can greatly improve your perspective on the situation and protect your overall mental health and well-being.
Karolina Lieponis, licensed clinical social worker at Meridian Psychiatric Partners, is an expert at helping patients navigate these difficult circumstances. Here are five important strategies she recommends for coping with a chronic illness.
1. Obtain accurate and up-to-date information
Like they say, “knowledge is power.” This is especially true when it comes to understanding your chronic medical condition.
Start by speaking with your medical provider, who is likely to have printed materials that are specific to patients’ diagnoses. You can also turn to a hospital social worker, as they’re often up to date on all of the most trusted websites and other resources.
Beyond that, you can go directly the website of the national organization that’s associated with your specific diagnosis. These websites are typically full of robust information that includes education, advocacy, recommended literature and support resources.
Always be mindful of what you find elsewhere on the internet, though, as it’s often difficult to determine if what you find is accurate and up to date.
Keep in mind, too, that it can sometimes be counterproductive to overwhelm yourself with too much information all at once. Ask your medical team about what info is most appropriate for you at the time.
2. Organize all of the documents related to your diagnosis
It’s incredibly helpful to have all of your relevant documents at the ready for future reference. This applies to educational materials, as well as your clinical paperwork like after-visit and discharge summaries.
Organize your information using whichever method is easiest for you:
- Hard copies in a binder
- Scanned digital copies on your computer
- Photographs on your smartphone
Today, many health care providers operate online portals, which can also provide quick-and-easy access to many of your important documents online.
3. Establish a system for keeping to your medication schedule
You may be required to take medication to help treat your condition, which is one more “to-do” for your busy daily routine.
Are you prone to misplacing your glasses around the house, or forgetting that one important item on your visit to the supermarket? You’re certainly not alone.
While being forgetful sometimes can be frustrating, it can become a far more serious issue when it comes to taking your medication. Finding a reliable system for remembering when to take your prescribed medication is vital.
This could include:
- A pill box to organize your meds for each day of the week
- Setting timers on your phone
- Downloading an app for medication management
When you find the right system that works for you, you can gain peace of mind and relieve the potential stress of missing an important dose of your medication.
4. Make sure all of your important contact information is easily accessible
You never know when you’ll need to access your care provider’s contact information.
Whether you need to schedule an appointment, obtain documents or even coordinate care with another provider, it’s essential that you have all of the relevant contact information readily available.
Be sure you always have the phone numbers, email addresses, fax numbers and street addresses you need on hand.
This could include, but is not limited to, your:
- Social worker
- Child life specialist
And in case of more urgent issues, always know how to reach your medical provider outside of business hours or on weekends.
5. Find a support system
The type of support you choose to seek out can vary greatly based on your unique situation, personality and preferences.
For some people, it could simply mean confiding in your immediate family about your diagnosis. Others may benefit greatly by having the help of support groups or individual therapy.
When looking for a support group, your medical provider may be able to offer a referral. This might be a group that’s associated with your medical facility, or even the local chapter of a national organization.
Attending national organizations’ conferences is an excellent way to not only get information from presentations, but also receive crucial support from people who share the same diagnosis.
You can also look for formal online support groups and informal groups on social media, like Facebook. While some groups organized by patients can be helpful, it’s important to remember that the information shared there does not constitute medical advice; be sure to make the distinction between these types of groups and those that are run by professionals in their field.
Many mental health care providers have therapists who specialize in supporting patients who are coping with a chronic medical condition. When searching for a therapist, ask your insurance provider for in-network therapists or inquire with your medical team about a referral.
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Receiving a chronic medical condition diagnosis is an extremely difficult experience in a person’s life, and it only makes sense that you’ll be feeling a range of emotions during this time.
With the help of the right knowledge, strong organizational skills and a quality support system in place, you’ll be better prepared to manage both your physical and mental health and improve your quality of life.
Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya via Unsplash.com
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