Prioritizing Mental Health for MS Management and Overall Well-Being
Every year on October 10, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes World Mental Health Day to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Priority.
No two people experience MS the same way. They may experience different symptoms at different times, and the impact of these symptoms can vary from person to person.
While we often think of MS in terms of its common physical symptoms, such as extreme fatigue or lack of coordination, MS can also significantly impact mental health and emotional well-being. Effects of MS on mental health include mood changes, depression, and cognitive impairment, which are considered the invisible symptoms of MS.
Learn more about mood disorders and cognitive dysfunction in an insight article highlighting a new book, “Mind, Mood, and Memory: The Neurobehavioral Consequences of Multiple Sclerosis,” written by Dr. Anthony Feinstein.
Despite their invisibility, these are common experiences within the MS community and an estimated one in two people with MS will develop a major depressive illness – experiencing five or more depressive symptoms for two or more weeks – throughout their lifetime.
Research has shown that depression is more prevalent in people with MS than in the general population. Learn more about the research surrounding MS and depression.
Regardless of differences in symptoms and experiences, a key component to MS management is taking care of one’s mental health alongside one’s physical health since both are essential to overall quality of life and well-being. This is especially critical for those with MS who experience chronic pain – a physical symptom of MS which affects 50 percent of all people living with the disease – which can have negative consequences on mental health, such as affecting mood and sleep.
Read more about the importance of taking care of your mental health as a part of holistic pain management in our International Pain Awareness blog featuring Dr. Jacqueline Kraushaar, Dr. Shane Wunder, and Dr. Robert Simpson.
MS can be difficult to understand for both the person living with MS and their support system. Paired with symptoms that are not always visible, the unpredictability and uniqueness of a disease with no known cure causes many people to feel alone with their MS. It is important to ask for help, lean on others for support, and focus on your mental well-being throughout your MS journey. Check out the various ways members of the MS community prioritize their mental health in managing their MS, as shared in previous blog posts:
For Catherine, talking about her MS with family, friends, and those who understood MS, was essential to accepting her MS diagnosis: “I faced challenges with my mental health because MS is so unpredictable, and relapses can occur at any time. I struggled because I didn’t talk about what I was going through for a long time, but everything seems less frightening now that I am.”
Amelia copes with her mental health issues by focusing on what she can control, talking with her support network, exercising, and spending time with her dog. “For me, pet therapy has been key. My spouse adopted a dog for us shortly after my diagnosis and my fur baby has helped make every difficult moment so much better. He comforts me 24 hours a day and senses when I’m having a tough time. My dog is my best friend. Pet therapy has benefited my mental health on a whole other level.”
Kajal struggled with the idea of people treating her differently because of her MS, which took a toll on her mental health. Now, she is sharing her feelings about her MS diagnosis with others. “There were so many days where I wouldn’t leave the house. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. I was terrified that my family and friends would look at me differently, so I hid my MS from them. My immediate family knew but I couldn’t fathom having my extended family and friends pitying me. Going to therapy has really helped me accept my diagnosis. I realized that before I can expect other people to accept it, I needed to accept it myself.”
Jessica emphasizes the importance of talking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy diet for her overall mental health. She also leans on the support and services that the MS Society provides for people affected by MS. “The MS Society’s Peer Support Program and MS Knowledge Network offer services where you can reach out and talk to people with MS if you are feeling isolated. MS can come with debilitating symptoms, so it is critical that we talk about mental health for people living with the chronic disease. A healthy mind and a healthy body are equally important, so people living with MS who are struggling with their mental health should seek help and take advantage of the many resources available to them.”
Support and Mental Health Resources
- Wellness Together Canada offers online tools and resources to help Canadians with a variety of mental health challenges.
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
- Webinar: Mental Health and MS (Rocky Mountain MS Center)
- Resiliency: Addressing the challenges of MS - watch the video on YouTube
- Canadian Psychological Association
If you are thinking about suicide or are worried about a friend or loved one, Talk Suicide Canada (formerly known as the Canada Suicide Prevention Service) is available 24/7 for phone calls (1-833-456-4566) and from 4pm to 12am ET for text (text 45645). For residents of Quebec, please visit suicide.ca
If you live with MS and are facing challenges with your mental health, the MS Navigators can also help direct you to resources for support. The MS Knowledge Network is not a distress centre nor a crisis organization. If you are in immediate need of support, call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital. There are a number of additional mental health supports available across Canada for all ages.