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Easing the Mental Load for People with Chronic Conditions

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By leveraging human-centered mental health resources, healthcare companies have an opportunity to reach and support those living with chronic conditions. 

All too often, healthcare companies miss opportunities to connect with people about the association between chronic conditions and mental health. They may be aware this association exists — but don’t focus on mental health messaging unless their products are directly related. 

However, patients experience difficult emotions, including stress, anxiety, and depression, at every stage of the chronic condition journey. High stress levels can lead to headaches, pain, and other physical symptoms; in some cases, stress can make chronic conditions worse. Mental health can also be a barrier to medication adherence, with further impacts on physical health. 

Given this connection, healthcare companies have an opportunity to create or support human-centered, more effective mental health resources as a way to reach and help more people. 

Understanding the Link Between Mental Health and Chronic Condition Journeys 

In our Chronic Conditions Qualitative Study from May 2021, we took an in-depth look at the emotions experienced throughout patient journeys. For those experiencing symptoms before diagnosis, the difficult emotions at each stage include:

  • Initial symptoms: Concerned, confused, pain, fatigue

  • Diagnosis: Frightened, unsettled

  • Treatment: Stressed, overwhelmed

  • Condition management: Unmotivated, overwhelmed

For those without initial symptoms, the journey was slightly different. Potentially stressful feelings include: 

  • Diagnosis: Alarmed, shocked, devastated, angry

  • Treatment: Nervous, questioning, overwhelmed

  • Condition management: Drained, apprehensive

In addition, the research suggested that specific chronic conditions are correlated with particular emotional impacts. For instance, those experiencing migraine feel “guilt about missing out on life events” and having others mistrust them. Those living with hepatitis C experience “embarrassment and shame” due to negative stigma, as well as treatment cost concerns. Those with bipolar disorder may experience “extreme mood swings” that impact both emotional and physical health. 

Reach Consumers with More Effective Mental Health Resources

The first step is to understand the specific connections between mental health and chronic conditions — and the next step is to help. Relief for high levels of daily stress could help people not just feel more positive, but also help to prevent flare-ups and ensure adherence to treatment programs. Plus, people with chronic conditions overwhelmingly believe that information about and tools for reducing stress are massively helpful at any point in their journey. 

Healthcare companies have the opportunity to create or support resources that reach more people, more effectively. To maximize effectiveness, these mental health resources, ranging from articles to podcasts to video content, should follow human-centered principles. 

To help illustrate these principles, we spoke with Gabe Howard, a host of two podcasts about mental health, Inside Mental Health and Inside Schizophrenia, for our brand Psych Central, to learn more about his approach. Howard, who is living with bipolar disorder, emphasizes the importance of the following traits for successful mental health content:

  • Accessible: For those already dealing with stress, resources must be easy to find, use, and understand. Howard says, “Most people can’t just make an appointment with a  doctor and have them explain these concepts — patients and doctors are busy!” 

    Done well, podcasts can offer straightforward discussions on specific topics using clear examples. Howard’s goal is always to ensure accessibility: “I try to get the highest-level expert I can find, but I make sure that my dad, a former truck driver, can understand their answers.

  • Authentic: Howard wants his audiences to get the answers they need — which means having frank, authentic conversations. He says, “Everyone is repeating the same talking points, but I think we can do better and provide real answers that go deeper.” 

    Howard also points out that “some of the stuff we cover can be scary, especially if you fear you or a loved one may have a mental health condition.” He sees podcasts as an “intimate” medium that can help break down barriers and help the audience feel included in the conversation. 

  • Actionable: Resources should provide a path forward. Howard says, “Nobody should listen to a podcast and declare themselves an expert, but it can lay foundational knowledge and help reduce fear.” Resources should boost an audience’s confidence so they feel more comfortable as they look for additional resources, reach out to their HCP, or learn about potential solutions. 

  • Accurate: People looking for mental health information are understandably anxious to find answers, but that makes them susceptible to misinformation. High standards protect patients, which is why Healthline Media prioritizes the integrity of our content with rigorous medical and editorial standards. Our audiences come to us for guidance and resources on topics that impact them personally, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. 

  • Audience-focused: Human-centered resources put the audience first — and that’s often more about depth than breadth. For instance, Howard notes that the Inside Schizophrenia podcast has developed a smaller, but very devoted fanbase: “Listeners become very passionate about the show and whoever is supporting the show.” That is, excitement for the show extends to its healthcare sponsors, and creates an opportunity for advertisers to finely tailor their message. Rather than trying to reach all possible audiences, resources built for specific segments can be more helpful and make a deeper impact. 

Takeaway

The bottom line is that today’s healthcare companies can’t afford to overlook how mental health and difficult emotions can be interwoven with the experience of living with a chronic condition. In fact, it’s an opportunity: with an approach founded on accessibility, authenticity, and other human-focused values, companies can provide or partner with publishers and brands to provide important resources that help a broader audience. 

For more information about the Chronic Conditions Qualitative Study, or about Healthline Media, email us today.

Source: Healthline Media Chronic Conditions Qualitative Study, May 10 to 28 2021, n=80 respondents diagnosed and living with a health condition (Ankylosing spondylitis, Bipolar disorder, Breast cancer, High cholesterol, Hepatitis C, IBD, Migraine, Multiple sclerosis, NSCLC, Psoriasis)

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