Have you ever heard of the saying “be of sound mind and sound body”?
During American Heart Month, we want to raise awareness that depression and heart disease are common among the adult population and often co-occur in the same person. There is a multifaceted relationship between the two illnesses. In fact, new research indicates that in men with untreated depression, the risk of fatal heart disease is almost the same as the risks from high cholesterol or obesity. Physicians have always understood that mental health and heart health have a behavioral link, such as people who feel sad or stressed have overall poor self-care such as smoking, drinking, inactivity and poor nutrition. More recent statistics, however, examine the physiological connections. Some of the same biological factors place people at risk of mental health as well as physical health conditions. There is general acceptance today of the mind-body connection. Seeking help for resolving depression or anxiety is not only OK but essential to enjoy full quality of life health and satisfaction.
Q: My husband had a major heart attack last year and ever since he has not been his old self; he basically has given up on life and seems always in a bad mood. What can I do?
A: The experience of a major heart attack must have been very traumatic on both your husband and yourself. Changes in mood, embarrassment and loss of self-esteem, fear of recurrence and negative thoughts about the future may occur. Your husband might think: well, I just had a heart attack, so who wouldn’t be depressed? Most people are able to recover and gain back a sense of their prior self after a heart attack, but studies do show that up to 33 percent of heart attack survivors develop some degree of depression. If depression is long-lasting or is interfering with his daily activities, relationships or zest for life, it’s important to address it. Sometimes, getting back to normal life after a heart attack takes additional intervention. Perhaps both you and he could speak to his physician about these concerns. You also may contact a local counseling agency and go together to discuss how to get back on track. Even if he declines to go, consider seeking support for yourself as an opportunity to privately discuss your thoughts and feelings. Spouses of heart attack survivors need extra TLC as well.
Q: I get chest pains and I’m told I have heart disease. I’ve been on an antidepressant medication for a few years, and now my doctor suggested I see a counselor. How is that supposed to help when my heart issue is a medical problem?
A: I can understand your confusion, but there is a good reason your doctor made that suggestion. He or she is invested in taking good care of you, both physically and mentally. Many people with various health issues benefit from a consultation with a counselor or a health coach. Heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, 1 in 3 female deaths in the United States. Women suffering from depression are at two to three times the risk of heart disease than those who are not depressed. A counselor may teach you specific ways to relax and relieve stress, improve sleep, increase fitness and lower risk factors such as smoking or poor nutrition. Also addressed is the connection of our negative thoughts on our moods, behaviors and overall health. Depression and anxiety can often make physical problems worse, such as triggering physical pain, fatigue, headaches or a racing heartbeat. A combination of counseling along with medication is often the most effective approach to treating ongoing depression or anxiety. Since you mention having been on medication, you might want to try a few visits with a counselor to see if that would be of benefit to you as well.
Susanne Ringhausen is director of psychological services and EAP counseling at OSF Saint Anthony’s Health Center. For information, call (618) 474-6240.