Joining a support group and connecting with others on social media are some of the ways you can find support for EPI.
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a condition in which your pancreas doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes to break down food and absorb nutrients.
Living with a chronic condition such as EPI doesn’t only affect you physically — it can affect your mental health, too.
The stress associated with managing EPI may cause you to experience emotions such as anxiety or depression. You might also feel isolated and misunderstood, particularly if you don’t know anyone else living with EPI.
You’re not alone, though. Many people managing chronic health conditions face mental health challenges as a result.
Finding support and connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can benefit your mental health and help you manage EPI. Here’s why support is important and where you can find it if you’re living with the condition.
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This can result from illness-driven stress and anxiety, as well as perceived isolation. The physical effects of the condition may also affect mental health.
Untreated EPI can cause bloating and abdominal pain. Even if your doctor has prescribed pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) to treat EPI, you may experience pain if your enzyme dose needs to be adjusted.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes that chronic pain and mental health concerns often occur together and can intensify each other.
Chronic pain can cause:
- substance use disorder
- sleep disturbances
An estimated 35% to 45% of people living with a condition that causes chronic pain also experience depression.
Pain and other symptoms of EPI, such as bloating, diarrhea, and frequent bowel movements, can also lower your quality of life and may affect your ability to participate in daily activities, such as work and social events.
All of this can be stressful and take a toll on your mental health.
Digestive enzymes help your body break down food and absorb nutrients. If you live with a condition such as EPI that reduces your body’s output of these enzymes, you may be at risk of malnutrition.
- 35.2% were deficient in vitamin A
- 62.5% were deficient in vitamin D
- 17.7% were deficient in vitamin E
- 68.9% had reduced bone density
- 31.5% had a medium or high score for risk on the Malnutrition Universal Screening Test
Nutritional deficiencies can affect the way your brain functions and may lead to mental health conditions.
Research from 2018 has linked vitamin D deficiency to several issues involving brain health, one of which is depression.
A 2018 study found that a reduction in vitamin E levels may increase the chance of major depressive disorder.
Finding support can help you manage your mental health and make life with EPI easier.
Having the comfort of support may help you maintain the self-care strategies that can ease your EPI symptoms. It’s easier to maintain a treatment regimen and helpful lifestyle changes when you feel supported and understood.
Taking care of your mental health may also help ease your physical symptoms. Some of the discomforts you’re experiencing may be physical symptoms of mental health conditions.
Aches, pains, fatigue, and brain fog are all ways that mental health can affect you physically. Stress and anxiety may even worsen your EPI stomach pain and other symptoms. Mental health support can help.
There are a variety of ways you can find support to help you manage your mental health while living with EPI.
Talk with family and friends
It’s understandable to want privacy when dealing with a medical concern. However, sharing your diagnosis with family, friends, or coworkers can help ease the stress of managing life with EPI.
If the people in your life know what you’re experiencing, they’ll be less likely to misinterpret your behaviors or symptoms. For instance, they may be more understanding if you need to cancel plans due to an EPI flare-up. They’ll also be more able to offer support and compassion.
Join a support group
Support groups are available, both for EPI and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. If there isn’t an in-person group in your area, you may want to consider online options.
A 2018 review found evidence that mental health support groups can help. The researchers found scientifically rigorous evidence supporting the effectiveness of:
- professionally managed, family-run support groups
- support groups for psychoeducation carers
- professionally managed, program-oriented support group for people living with mental health conditions
The studies included in the review assessed the support groups as a complement to other forms of therapy.
Connect through social media
Social media is a powerful connection tool. It lets people from all over the world who share an experience, such as living with EPI, search their topics of interest and find one another.
Platforms such as Facebook have special interest groups, where members can share their experiences and offer each other advice and support.
Twitter lets people create custom lists to fill their feeds with posts from specific users. Hashtags allow topic searches, and Twitter spaces are live chat rooms where users can discuss preferred topics.
Instagram and TikTok bring users even closer through imagery and reels, allowing people to share their stories and find mutual support.
See a mental health professional
A trained mental health professional can often help with persistent mental health concerns. They can also help you find ways to manage the stress related to having EPI. And they may be able to prescribe medication to help treat depression and or anxiety.
There are various therapy options available, in both individual and group settings.
The availability of online therapy gives you access to an increased number of therapists, making it more likely you’ll find someone who’s a good fit.
You can start your search for a therapist by asking your family doctor for a referral. You can also ask family or friends if they know one, or you can search online:
Living with a chronic health condition such as EPI can cause stress and anxiety, which may lead to depression in some people. It’s understandable to feel down sometimes, but if your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, you may be experiencing a depressive disorder.
Mental health conditions are often treatable. The first step is finding support. This can be in the form of conversations with family and friends, support groups, or sessions with a mental health professional.
Effective mental health support can reduce your level of stress and make it easier to manage EPI.