Long-term health conditions and mental health – How steps2change can help

Published on: 19th March 2022

Having a long-term health condition (LTC) isn’t like a cold or flu. You cannot simply “rest up” and it gets better. Chronic conditions come with varied problems and have an impact on mental health. For this reason, treatment needs to be personalised and account for both physical and mental health.

Our physical self is intrinsically tied to our emotional self. When there is a shift in one of these areas, there is often an impact on the other. By managing our mental health, we can often see improvements in our physical health, and vice versa.

In 2017, steps2Change set up a new part of its service which honours this link. It was named ‘Steps2Change4betterhealth’ by our service user forum. Like the core service, we work with common mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. We look at these through the lens of a long-term condition. We support individuals with various LTCs such as diabetes, COPD, cardiac problems and cancer. The team work alongside health professionals associated to work with condition-related beliefs and behaviours.

Take for example a lady with diabetes who cannot stabilise her blood sugar due to the anxiety around her diagnosis. As much as she follows the guidance on diabetes management, she checks her blood sugar levels more often due to anxiety and notices that her levels are higher than normal. As a result of this, her anxiety increases which impacts her hormones and diabetes. This then increases her readings and causes more anxiety, forming a vicious cycle.

We would look at working with her to help her to manage her anxiety in a different way, to help stabilise her readings and reduce her anxiety. This would make her condition easier to manage. It could also decrease the chances of further health complications.

In providing this intervention, the therapist will have had contact with her diabetic nurse to make sure there is a consistent approach. Findings show that working in this integrated way has profound benefits.

If you think you would benefit from Step2Change4betterhealth, please speak to your physical health clinician. You can also visit our website to self-refer.

People who have accessed the service said:

“The service has given me practical help to lower my anxiety. It has given me tools to move forward in a more managed way. I now understand my condition and the way it is affecting me.”

“The service was excellent and supportive. It helped me to understand my complex condition and the way it affects my mental health."

“These sessions will help me a great deal in the future.”

“I found my therapist to be very understanding and committed. I referred following my cardiac arrest which had life-threatening complications. The team offered me the support I needed via video calls.”