Man with chronic illness sat in wheelchair

The link between chronic disease, depression and anxiety

Did you know that the physical and mental health of people in regional, rural and remote[i] Australia is consistently poorer than that of people in major cities?

It’s a fact that people outside of major cities have shorter life expectancy, are more likely to experience disease or injury, and have poorer access to health services. Not only that, but people in regional areas also have higher rates of chronic disease (also called chronic illnesses)[ii].


“…people who live with a chronic disease are at greater risk of developing anxiety, depression, or both…”


Chronic illness and depression

A chronic illness is best described as: “an enduring health problem that will not go away — for example diabetes, asthma, arthritis or cancer. Chronic physical illnesses can be managed, but they cannot be cured[iii].”

You don’t need to be a health professional to comprehend the far-reaching physical effects of a chronic illness. Chronic illnesses can affect a person’s mobility, their quality of life, and are often associated with other ‘secondary’ illnesses. Chronic illness can also lead to further complications, such as reduced income.

What is less widely acknowledged about chronic disease is the way in which it can affect mental health. In fact, people who live with a chronic disease are at greater risk of developing anxiety, depression, or both[iv].

There are many reasons why this can occur. For one thing, chronic disease can be a near-constant in a person’s life that adversely affects employment, travel, holidays and other activities. It’s not just the unpleasantness of regular pain, discomfort, tiredness or disorientation — living with chronic illness means these conditions could be interfering with almost every enjoyable part of daily life.

For example, a chronic disease may interfere with mobility, getting in the way of travelling to social events or family occasions. Indeed, it is not uncommon for people living with chronic illness to experience social isolation[v].

In addition, many of the effects of chronic illness may seem ‘invisible’ to anyone but the person experiencing them.

For example, you probably know that asthma[vi] affects breathing and may even pose a serious health risk. This can understandably affect someone’s capacity to participate in sport or physical activity. However, what may be less apparent is that the same condition may also get in the way of social participation. It is also common for asthma to interfere with quality sleep.


Coping with chronic illness

Health authorities have identified chronic illnesses as serious concerns across northern Queensland. Three chronic diseases in particular have been singled out[vii]: diabetes complications; heart disease (referred to as chronic heart failure or CHF); and lung diseases like emphysema (referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

As mentioned, living with one of these chronic illnesses can affect not just your physical wellbeing but also your general outlook. When each day presents difficulties due to a health condition, it’s no wonder that you can start to feel down.

Often complicating things further is the fact that many ‘traditional’ forms of self-care are less suitable for people living with chronic illness. For example, staying physically active — commonly recommended because of the many mental health benefits of exercise — may be unsuitable for someone with a condition that affects their mobility.

Similarly, staying socially active — another commonly recommended form of self-care — may be more challenging for people who feel physically unwell due to tiredness, pain, or even the effects of medication.

There is one form of coping that has been shown to be an effective way for dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health effects resulting from chronic illness.

Quite simply, this is the act of talking about your concerns. Quite often, this is one of the best things you can do, whether it’s with a mate, family member, neighbour or trusted work colleague.

If that’s not an option, consider talking it out with an NQ Connect counsellor. NQ Connect provides free professional counselling to people in northern Queensland. Counsellors are professionally trained to listen and help you cope and manage your stresses and concerns. Free phone counselling as well as free online counselling is available 24 7 and is open to anyone aged 15 or over in northern Queensland.


Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.


[i] Northern Queensland Primary Health Network notes the following point about the terms regional, rural and remote. “The term ‘rural and remote’ encompasses all areas outside Australia’s Major cities. Using the Australian Standard Geographical Classification System, these areas are classified as Inner regional, Outer regional, Remote or Very remote. In many instances, the term ‘rural and remote’ is used interchangeably with the classification terms ‘regional and remote.”