Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition that affects the central nervous system. It can cause many symptoms, which vary from one person to another.
Some people with MS only have mild symptoms, while others have symptoms that get worse over time. Many people with MS have short flares of symptoms followed by periods of remission when symptoms improve.
MS can cause various physical and cognitive symptoms. Living with MS may also affect your mood or overall mental health.
Healthline spoke with Dr. Meghan Beier, a health and rehabilitation psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine in Los Angeles, California.
“Even if somebody is not overly distressed in the beginning, learning strategies to support their mental health can help them maintain a positive emotional trajectory over time,” said Beier.
If you’ve received a diagnosis of MS, learning more about your condition and finding sources of social support may help you cope with the challenges of managing it. Read on to find tips for adjusting to a new diagnosis and managing the challenges of MS.
According to a 2020 research review, having MS raises your risk of anxiety and depression.
Some people may initially feel relieved or validated when they receive a diagnosis of MS because it helps them understand and manage the symptoms they’ve been experiencing.
Others may feel more negative emotions, such as:
- shock or disbelief
- grief or sadness
- fear or uncertainty
Some people experience a mix of positive and negative emotions.
You might also experience shifts in your emotions as your condition or life circumstances change over time. This can lead to mental health impacts and, in some cases, the development of a mental health condition.
Taking steps to support your mental health may help you cope with a new diagnosis and prepare you to manage changes or challenges that you might face with MS in the future.
When you receive a diagnosis of MS, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings.
“Adjusting to living with a chronic and progressive disease is challenging for everyone. Acknowledging the feelings and allowing yourself to have them are imperative to moving forward,” Melissa Bruno told Healthline. Bruno, MSW, LSW, C-ASWCM, is the senior manager of MS Navigator Experience at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS).
“Building your resiliency is also key. Looking at your new diagnoses as a problem to be solved rather than a threat makes it much less [difficult] to take that first step forward,” she said.
Talking with your doctor and learning more about MS may help you understand and manage the condition while reducing feelings of uncertainty. Finding social support might also help you build resiliency.
Talk with your doctor
Having open conversations with your doctor about your diagnosis is important for learning more about your treatment options and long-term outlook with MS.
There’s currently no cure for MS, but disease-modifying treatments can help slow the progression of the condition.
Various treatments are also available to manage symptoms of MS. Adjusting your lifestyle habits or surrounding environments might also help you manage symptoms.
Discuss any questions or concerns that you have about your condition or treatment plan with your doctor. Let them know if you find it hard to manage the physical, cognitive, or emotional effects of living with MS. They might recommend changes to your treatment plan or refer you to another specialist for support.
Learn more about MS
Appointments with your doctor provide a good opportunity to ask questions and learn about MS, but you might also find it helpful to research the condition on your own time.
A lot of information about MS is available online, but it’s not all credible or accurate.
Some credible sources of information include:
- MS International Federation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS)
- Can Do Multiple Sclerosis
The NMSS also operates an MS Navigator program to help people connect with education and support resources. You can connect with an MS Navigator by:
- calling 1-800-344-4867, Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
- using the online chat feature, Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
- submitting an email through the online contact form
You may also visit a library or bookstore to find books about MS or managing chronic illness in general. Look for books that are informed by research and written by a credible author, such as a licensed physician or mental health professional with training in MS.
If you’re not sure about the quality of the information you find, discuss it with your doctor during your next appointment. They can help you separate fact from fiction.
Find social support
Developing a strong social support network can help you manage the ups and downs of life, including MS-related challenges. This network might include family members and friends, as well as other people living with MS.
“Building connections is key, whether it’s finding a local support group or peer mentor, talking with a friend or your neurologist,” said Bruno. “Surrounding yourself with people who ‘get it’ and can be compassionate toward you is imperative.”
Connecting with other people who have MS may help you feel less alone or isolated, said Beier. It also provides a chance for people with MS to share practical tips and resources for managing the condition.
To find other people with MS:
- Search for a local support group, using the NMSS’s online directory.
- Join an online community for people with MS.
- Sign up for the MS Friends program.
You can also search for other people with MS through social media, such as Facebook or Instagram.
Receiving a new diagnosis of MS or experiencing changes in your condition may bring up challenging emotions that last for a couple of days, weeks, or longer. The diagnosis may impact your mental health.
If negative emotions last for more than a couple of weeks and interfere with your daily activities or relationships, consider asking your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional.
“Is worry or distress interfering with everyday activities? If it’s impacting your job or volunteer activities, getting in the way of relationships, or interfering with your hobbies or activities that you usually enjoy, then it’s time to consider working with a mental health professional,” said Beier.
Ideally, it’s best to connect with a mental health professional who has experience supporting people with MS or other chronic health conditions.
What mental health professionals can help you cope with MS?
You might see any of the following professionals, depending on your needs, preferences, and who you have access to:
- Licensed professional counselor (LPC): Counselors have a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a similar field.
- Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW): Clinical social workers hold a master’s degree and often work closely with other members of your care team.
- Psychologist (PhD, PsyD): Psychologists hold a doctoral degree and are licensed in the state where they practice. They use interviews and tests to establish a diagnosis and typically can’t prescribe medications, but that varies from state to state.
- Psychiatrist (MD): Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They can make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan for you, including prescribing medication.
They might recommend one or more of the following to manage mental health:
- talk therapy, or counseling
- medication, such as an antidepressant
- other treatments
Taking steps to address mental health effects and develop positive coping strategies can help you manage the challenges of living with MS.
Receiving a new diagnosis of MS or experiencing changes in your condition can be challenging. Talking with your doctor can help you learn more about your outlook and treatment options.
Using credible sources of information to learn about MS and connecting with other people who have the condition may also help you adjust to your diagnosis or condition progression. In some cases, you might benefit from connecting with a mental health professional.
Taking a proactive approach to managing this condition may help you feel more in control while allowing you to develop the knowledge and skills you need to maintain your mental health with MS.