Heart failure is a chronic condition that can affect not only your physical health but also your quality of life and mental well-being.
If you think you might have symptoms of anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, let a healthcare professional know. They may refer you to a mental health specialist for counseling or other treatments.
The relationship between heart health and mental health runs both ways. It’s thought that some biochemical changes can influence both mental health issues and heart conditions.
People with heart failure are more likely than average to experience mental health challenges. Researchers have found:
- 20 percent to 40 percent of people with chronic heart failure have depression
- 32 percent of people with heart failure have heightened levels of anxiety
- 13 percent of people with heart failure have an anxiety disorder
PTSD is related to experiencing a traumatic event. It can cause disturbing and debilitating thoughts and flashbacks that can alter a person’s mood and generate distorted thoughts.
This can result in feelings of shame, fear, and guilt. It may lead a person to avoid certain places, activities, or situations.
Having untreated PTSD has also been linked to a greater risk of heart failure as well as a higher risk of death in people with heart failure, according to research from 2018.
How does heart failure affect mental health?
A diagnosis of heart failure may evoke challenging emotions, such as grief, fear, or uncertainty about your future.
Physical symptoms of heart failure may prevent you from participating in activities you enjoy.
It may also be harder to fulfill the social roles that matter to you. This may affect your mood and sense of self.
You might also find it stressful to cope with the financial costs and practical challenges of managing heart failure.
Feelings of sadness and anxiety may also discourage you from seeking the help you need to manage a heart condition, leading to a worse health outlook.
How does mental health affect heart health?
Stress, fear, and other negative emotions can raise levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These can impact blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, this can make heart disease worse.
You might find it difficult get enough sleep, exercise regularly, or practice other heart-healthy habits while coping with mental health challenges.
You might also engage in behaviors that are harmful to your heart. For example, mental health conditions are linked to higher rates of smoking, alcohol use, and substance use.
Some of the medications used to treat certain mental health conditions may also raise your risk of heart disease. Talk with your doctor to learn about the potential benefits and risks of different treatment options.
If you have symptoms of a mental health condition, your provider may recommend counseling.
A qualified counselor can help you:
- manage negative emotions and mood changes
- adjust harmful thought patterns and behaviors
- address communication challenges and interpersonal conflicts
A 2018 review of studies found that a type of counseling known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) appears to be effective at reducing anxiety and depression in people with heart disease.
Your provider might also prescribe an anti-anxiety drug, antidepressant, or other medication to help treat a mental health condition.
Several types of counseling are used to treat anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
Your provider may recommend:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): to help you identify and change harmful patterns in your thinking and behavior
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT): to help you work through communication challenges and interpersonal conflicts
- Peer counseling or group therapy: to connect you with other people who have experienced similar challenges
You might also find it helpful to join an online or in-person support group for people with heart failure.
Multiple types of mental health professionals offer counseling, including:
- psychiatric nurses
- social workers
- licensed professional counselors
Try to find a counselor who is:
- Licensed to practice. Each state has its own licensing requirements for psychologists, social workers, therapists, and counselors.
- Covered by your health insurance. If you have health insurance, your plan may only cover certain mental health services or specialists.
- Experienced in treating people with chronic health conditions. Your counselor may be able to offer better support if they understand the challenges of living with heart disease or other chronic illness.
You can learn about a counselor by:
- visiting their website
- speaking with them by phone or in person
- checking for their license through an online registry, such as the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
It’s also important to have a good rapport with your counselor. If you find it hard to talk to them or don’t feel supported, look for someone else who may be a better fit for you.
Some mental health specialists offer counseling by phone or online. This is called:
You might prefer telehealth if it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unsafe for you to visit your counselor in person. You might also use telehealth between in-person appointments for a quick check-in.
Talk with your counselor to learn whether they offer telehealth services, or search online for telehealth providers.
Your counselor might ask you to attend a telehealth appointment using an app such as Citrix or Zoom. You might also connect by phone, email, or other web technologies.
Some health insurance plans provide more coverage than others for mental healthcare. If you have health insurance, contact your provider to learn:
- which mental health diagnoses, services, and providers are covered
- how much you’ll need to pay out of pocket toward your deductible before your insurance provider will cover the costs of your care
- how much you’ll be charged in copay or coinsurance fees for each visit to your mental health specialist
You should also ask your counselor whether they accept your insurance.
If you don’t have health insurance or otherwise find it difficult to afford counseling:
- Ask your counselor if they offer sliding-scale fees. Some counselors charge lower fees to low-income clients. If your counselor doesn’t work on a sliding scale, they may be able to refer you to one who does.
- Check your local university, teaching hospital, and community health clinic. Some of these centers offer free or low cost counseling.
- Contact free hotlines for crisis support. If you’re having a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s toll-free hotline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
Your doctor may also know about other local resources that can help you access affordable mental healthcare.
Heart failure may negatively affect your mental health.
If you often feel sad, angry, afraid, hopeless, or emotionally numb, let a healthcare professional know. They may refer you to a mental health specialist.
Getting mental healthcare can help improve your mental well-being and quality of life. Good mental health may also have benefits for your heart.