Long-term physical conditions and mental health

Our physical and mental health are closely linked. Those of us who have a long-term physical health condition are also likely to experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

This doesn’t mean mental ill-health is inevitable though. There is support available as well as things you can do to help yourself.

What do we mean by long-term physical conditions?

Long-term physical conditions are those which can’t currently be cured but can be managed with medication or other treatment. They are also known as chronic conditions. Examples include diabetes, asthma, arthritis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome and high blood pressure.

More than 15 million people in England have one or more long-term physical conditions. They’re more common in older people (58% of people over 60 compared to 14% of people under 40) and in more deprived groups, but anyone can be affected.

You may find having a long-term physical condition affects many areas of your life, including your relationships, your ability to work, your finances and your mental health.

How can a long-term physical condition affect my mental health?

Having a long-term physical condition can lead to social isolation, low self-esteem, stigma and discrimination. You may feel tired, frustrated, worried or stressed, especially when dealing with pain, tests, treatments or flare ups.

All of these things can make you more likely to develop a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. In fact, research shows that people with a long-term physical condition are more than twice as likely to develop mental ill-health. Mental health problems can then make it harder for you to cope with your physical health condition.

You don’t have to just accept mental health problems as part of having a long-term condition. Speak to your GP about how you’re feeling and ask about different treatments to find one that’s right for you.

Getting support

Our page on physical health and mental health has ideas on how you might be able to help yourself, although some of these things might feel more difficult if you’re physically unwell. You may also find the following helpful when dealing with a long-term health condition.

Talk to friends and family

Some symptoms of a long-term condition such as tiredness and pain aren’t always visible. Other people might not realise what you’re going through. If you can, talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling and what support you need.

Talk to your GP

The Patients’ Association has some suggested questions to ask your GP if you have a long-term condition. It's important you feel supported and understood by your GP, especially if you need to visit them regularly: consider switching GPs or making a complaint if you don’t.

Find a support group

Support groups let you connect with other people who have the same long-term condition. You can share experiences, problems, tips and support. The Befriending Directory lets you search for support groups for specific health conditions.

Try talking therapy

Talking to a counsellor or therapist may help you manage your symptoms better or acknowledge the reality of your condition if you’re finding it hard to accept, for example. Sessions may be in person or via phone or video call. Ask your GP if they can refer you for counselling.

Cognitive behavioural therapy for pain management

If you’re in pain, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help you change how you think, feel and behave about it. It can help you manage your pain better and feel more in control, even if your level of pain doesn’t change. Ask your GP if they can refer you. NHS Inform has an online self-help guide for chronic pain.

Contact an organisation that supports people with your health condition

Having reliable information about your condition, treatment and management can help you feel more positive and in control. Some organisations may also offer practical, financial or emotional support. Some examples include:

* Last updated: 18 February 2022