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Mental Health: Entire Lesson

for Veterans and the Public

Mental Health: Entire Lesson

Overview

If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, your physical health is not the only issue you have to deal with. Along with the physical illness are mental health conditions that may come up. (Mental health refers to the overall well-being of a person, including a person's mood, emotions, and behavior.)

Having hepatitis C can have an impact on several areas of your life.

Many people are surprised when they learn that they have been diagnosed with hepatitis C. Some people feel overwhelmed by the changes that doctors say they should make in their lives.

It is completely normal to have strong reactions when you find out you have hepatitis C, including feelings such as fear, anger, and a sense of being overwhelmed. Often people feel helpless, sad, and anxious about the illness.

Some things to keep in mind about your feelings:
  • No matter what you are feeling, you have a right to feel that way.
  • There are no "wrong" or "right" feelings--feelings just are.
  • Feelings come and go.
  • You have choices about how you respond to your feelings.

There are things you can do to deal with the emotional aspects of having hepatitis C. What follows are some of the most common feelings associated with a diagnosis of hepatitis C and suggestions on how to cope with these feelings.

Denial

People who find out that they have hepatitis C often deal with the news by denying that it is true. This is a natural and normal first reaction.

At first, this denial may be helpful, because it can give you time to get used to the idea of having hepatitis C. However, if not dealt with, denial can be dangerous--you may fail to take certain precautions or reach out for the necessary help and medical support.

It is important that you talk out your feelings with your VA health care provider or someone you trust so that you can begin to receive the care and support you need.

Anger

Anger is a common and natural feeling related to being diagnosed with any new condition, such as hepatitis C. Many people are upset about how they got the virus or angry that they didn't know they had the virus.

To deal with feelings of anger:
  • Talk about your feelings with others, such as people in a support group, or with a counselor, friend, or social worker.
  • Try to get some exercise--like gardening, walking, or dancing--to relieve some of the tension and angry feelings you may be experiencing.
  • Avoid situations--involving certain people, places, and events--that cause you to feel angry or stressed out.

Sadness or depression

It is normal to feel sad when you learn you have hepatitis C. If, over time, you find that the sadness doesn't go away or is getting worse, talk with your doctor or someone else you trust. You may be depressed.

Symptoms of depression can include the following, especially if they last for more than 2 weeks:

  • Feeling sad, anxious, irritable, or hopeless
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Moving slower than usual or finding it hard to sit still
  • Losing interest in the things you usually enjoy
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Thinking about death or giving up
To deal with these symptoms:
  • Talk with your doctor about treatments for depression, such as talking to a therapist or taking medicines called antidepressants.
  • Get involved with a support group
  • Spend time with supportive people, such as family members and friends

If your mood swings or depression get very severe, or if you ever think about suicide, call your doctor right away. Your doctor can help you.

Finding the right treatment for depression takes time--so does recovery. If you think you may be depressed, don't lose hope. Instead, talk to your VA provider and seek help for depression.

Fear and anxiety

Fear and anxiety may be caused by not knowing what to expect now that you've been diagnosed with hepatitis C. You also may be afraid of telling people--friends, family members, and others--that you have hepatitis C.

Fear can make your heart beat faster or make it hard for you to sleep. Anxiety also can make you feel nervous or agitated. Fear and anxiety might make you sweat, feel dizzy, or feel short of breath.

To control feelings of fear and anxiety:
  • Learn as much as you can about hepatitis C.
  • Get your questions answered by your VA health care provider.
  • Talk with your friends, family members, and health care providers.
  • Join a support group.
  • Talk to your doctor about medicines for anxiety if the feelings don't lessen with time or if they get worse.

Stress

Stress is unique and personal to each of us. When stress does occur, it is important to recognize and deal with it. Some ways to handle stress are discussed below. As you gain more understanding about how stress affects you, you will come up with your own ideas for coping with stress.

Tips:
  • Try physical activity. When you are nervous, angry, or upset, try exercise or some other kind of physical activity. Walking, yoga, and gardening are just some of the activities you might try to release your tension.
  • Take care of yourself. Be sure you get enough rest and eat well. If you are irritable from lack of sleep or if you are not eating right, you will have less energy to deal with stressful situations. If stress keeps you from sleeping, you should ask your doctor for help.
  • Talk about it. It helps to talk to someone about your concerns and worries. You can talk to a friend, family member, counselor, or VA health provider.
  • Let it out. A good cry can bring relief to your anxiety, and it might even prevent a headache or other physical problem. Taking some deep breaths also releases tension.

Coping tips

It is completely normal to have an emotional reaction upon learning that you have hepatitis C, such as anxiety, anger, or depression. These feelings do not last forever.

As noted above, there are things that you can do to help take care of your emotional needs. Here are just a few ideas:

Tips:
  • Talk about your feelings with your VA doctor, friends, family members, or other supportive people.
  • Try to find activities that relieve your stress, such as exercise or hobbies.
  • Try to get enough sleep each night to help you feel rested.
  • Learn relaxation methods like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
  • Limit the amount of caffeine and nicotine you use.
  • Eat small, healthy meals throughout the day.
  • Join a support group.

There are many kinds of support groups that provide a place where you can talk about your feelings, help others, and get the latest information about hepatitis C. Check with your VA health care provider for a listing of local support groups. Some VA medical centers have support groups available at the clinic or hospital.

More specific ways to care for your emotional well-being include various forms of therapy and medication. Used separately or in combination, these may be helpful in dealing with the feelings you are experiencing. Therapy can help you better express your feelings and find ways to cope with your emotions. Medicines that may be able to help with anxiety and depression are also available.

You should always talk with your VA doctor about your options. There are many ways to care for your emotional health, but treatments must be carefully chosen by your VA physician based on your specific circumstances and needs.

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone; there are support systems in place to help you, including doctors, psychiatrists, family members, friends, support groups, and other services.

Resources

  • Hotlines
    A list of hotlines for the general public
  • HCV AdvocateLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    A site dedicated to helping people with hepatitis C "live positively"
  • Major DepressionLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Factsheet from the U.S. National Library of Medicine
  • StressLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Factsheets and tools from the U.S. National Library of Medicine