For many people, mental health doesn’t come with just one label. If you have co-existing mental health conditions, you may need to manage overlapping mental healthy symptoms. Here are some tips for tracking, talking about, and coping with comorbid conditions.
Why So Many People Have Co-Existing Mental Health Conditions
When a person experiences two or more physical or mental health conditions at the same time, they are called “comorbid conditions.” There are many different aspects that can contribute to a person’s overlapping mental health symptoms. Some are biological. For example, the limbic system – including the amygdala, hippocampus, and thalamus – is the emotional regulation center of the brain. When your limbic system is not behaving typically, you may experience symptoms for depression and anxiety, among other mental health conditions. In fact, more than half of patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) also experience an anxiety disorder.
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There are also environmental and social reasons why you may experience overlapping mental health symptoms. Some disorders, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), are triggered or even directly caused by traumatic life events or environmental factors. Childhood abuse or neglect, severe diseases, car accidents, combat experience, and even certain occupations can all cause stress responses that overlap with other mental health conditions.
Medications can also sometimes cause mental health symptoms. For example, stimulants to treat ADD, antidepressants, and even thyroid medications can all cause anxiety symptoms. These mental health symptoms can occur even without an underlying mental health diagnosis. However, sometimes stopping the medication can put you at a higher risk than learning to manage the overlapping mental health symptoms.
How to Manage Overlapping Mental Health Symptoms
When faced with comorbid conditions and overlapping mental health symptoms, it can be easy to become overwhelmed or feel out of control. It is important to develop coping strategies that address your specific constellation of symptoms, and the underlying conditions that cause them.
Make Sure Your Treating Professionals are Talking
When you have multiple health conditions, you run the risk of two different doctors or therapists recommending inconsistent treatments. When one office doesn’t know what the other is doing, it can leave you stuck in the middle of conflicting medical advice. Make sure each treating professional knows who else you are seeing. You may need to sign medical releases to allow them to talk about your situation. This will allow them to better coordinate your care and manage your symptoms.
Track Overlapping Mental Health Symptoms and Triggers Using a Calendar or App
When you have a complex physical and mental health history, the more information you have on your experiences, the better. It can be easy to think about your symptoms generally – you “always” get depressed around the holidays or you “never” feel like eating after you take a certain medication. They may be true, or those generalizations may be glossing over specific triggers that can help you improve your mental health. Use a journal or health tracking app to track your symptoms and any outside influences you think are affecting your mental health. For example, if you “always” get anxious when it rains, start tracking your anxiety level and the weather to see if those symptoms line up. This can provide clarity about what triggers your mental health symptoms, so you can make intelligent choices about your treatment and activities.
Keep Up with Your Medications
When a medication causes side effects, it can be tempting to just stop taking it. However, many medicines have risks associated with abrupt changes in dosage or treatment. Gaps in medication can also result in mental health episodes that can sometimes be dangerous. Always talk to your doctor before adjusting your medication. If you are experiencing side effects, tell your physician that too. There may be alternative treatments you can try that will reduce the negative side effects and still give you relief.
Address New or Worsening Symptoms When They Happen
It often takes time to home in on the right treatment for your overlapping mental health symptoms. In addition, life stressors can cause spikes in symptoms, overwhelming your existing coping strategies. If you experience any new or worsening symptom, talk to your doctor or psychotherapist about them right away. This can help you avoid suffering and address issues before they become serious.
Be Open to New Mental Health Diagnoses or Treatments
It is also true that sometimes doctors don’t get the diagnosis right on the first try. There are many reasons for this, from overlapping symptoms between conditions to diagnoses being made based on incomplete information. If you are managing overlapping mental health symptoms and aren’t experiencing complete relief, there could be another diagnosis or treatment that will better suit your experience, and improve your mental health outcomes.