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Mental health and heart disease
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Mental health and heart disease

Having a mental health condition can have a negative impact on your heart health and increase your risk of heart disease.

Key takeaways

  • If you live with a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, it can increase your chances of developing heart disease. 
  • Psychosocial stressors such as social isolation, loneliness and work stress can also affect your mental health. 
  • The good news is that anxiety and depression in people with heart disease can be managed safely and effectively. 

What is mental health? 

According to Beyond Blue, ‘mental health’ is often used as a substitute for describing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, it refers to your level of health and wellbeing, or ‘wellness’, rather than meaning that you have an illness. 

There’s evidence that having a mental health condition can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Two conditions that can have a negative impact on your heart health, are anxiety and depression. 

What is anxiety?  

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Anxious feelings that you may get from feeling under pressure will usually pass once the situation is over or the trigger has been removed. However, for some people these anxious feelings can happen for no apparent reason or continue after the stressful event has passed. 

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. 

Living with heart disease is one of many things that can trigger anxiety, but there are many ways to manage and treat anxiety. If you’re suffering from anxiety, the sooner you get help, the sooner you can recover. 

Signs and symptoms of anxiety 

Anxiety symptoms can often develop gradually over time. There are many types of anxiety and a range of symptoms for each, but common symptoms of anxiety include: 

  • Racing heart 
  • Tightening of the chest 
  • Snowballing worries 
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour. 
  • Hot and cold flushes 
  • Excessive sweating.

What is depression? 

Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious condition that has an impact on both your physical and mental health. 

While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely for long periods (weeks, months or even years), sometimes without any apparent reason.  

Like anxiety, there are effective treatments available. Again, the sooner you get help, the sooner you can recover.

Signs and symptoms of depression 

Some common symptoms of depression can include: 

  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy 
  • Withdrawing from family and friends 
  • Being unable to concentrate and not getting things done at work or school 
  • Feeling overwhelmed, indecisive and lacking in confidence 
  • Increased alcohol and other drug use 
  • Loss or change of appetite and significant weight loss or gain 
  • Trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep and being tired during the day 
  • Feeling worthless, helpless and guilty 
  • Increased irritability, frustration and moodiness 
  • Feeling unhappy, sad or miserable most of the time 
  • Low self-worth, with negative thoughts such as: ‘I’m a failure’, ‘Life’s not worth living’, ‘People would be better off without me’. 

Some links between anxiety, depression and heart disease 

  • Anxiety, depression and coronary heart disease (CHD) are common conditions and often occur together 
  • Heart disease is the heart condition most closely linked with depression 
  • While less is known about the links between anxiety and heart disease, many people with anxiety also have depression 
  • Depression is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle and can affect the recovery of people with coronary heart disease and increase their risk of further heart problems, such as another heart attack. 

Around 3 million Australians are living with depression or anxiety. 

Mental health and social isolation 

Social isolation – or the state of having minimal contact with others – can also affect your mental and physical health and increase your risk of heart disease.  

Having social connections, healthy personal relationships and being part of a community are essential to maintain your mental health. They will also help with your recovery, should you become unwell. 

Where can you get support? 

A general practitioner (GP) is a recommended first step to discuss your concerns. Make sure that the doctor managing your heart condition knows if you have anxiety or depression. 

Other health professionals – with experience in mental health – who can provide a range of support include: 

  • Psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Mental health workers, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers 
  • Mental health social workers 
  • Occupational therapists. 

For more information about mental health, treatment and management or to find a mental health practitioner in your area call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 now.

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