Top 10 Things to Know about Mental Health & CHD

When heart defects are first diagnosed, the heart structure and function get all the attention.  However, congenital heart disease (CHD) may have a lifelong impact on your whole being. This includes your mental health.

It is important that we make mental health care a normal part of CHD care. As an adult with CHD we urge you to keep these things in mind:

10. You are not alone.

About half of adults living with CHD are diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders at some point in their lifetime. The road isn’t easy, but you do not have to walk it by yourself.

9. Mental health care is an important part of your CHD care.

If you aren’t being asked about your mental health by your care team, you bring it up during your check-ups, and be sure to tell them about any concerns you have.

8. Build your support system.

This may include your family, friends, medical team, clergy or rabbi, mental health counselor and other CHD patients who share similar lived experiences as well as mental health professionals.

7. Your mental health can affect your physical health.

Mental health challenges may increase with the presence of cardiac symptoms and other medical challenges. Having untreated depression can put you at a higher risk for having another cardiac episode.

6. Your physical health can affect your mental health.

Sometimes an underlying physical condition can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is important that you speak with your physician to rule out any physical cause.

5. You experience added stressors people without CHD do not.

Individuals with CHD deal with everyday “normal” stressors and an added layer of CHD-related health stress. Personal relationships, social challenges, financial pressures and work demands can also impact your mental health. Stress management and self care are important aspects of your overall health.

4. Seeking help and asking questions are courageous acts.

Talking about your mental health can give you resources, tools, and additional support to become even stronger. If you think you may have anxiety or depression, it’s ok to talk to your doctor or another trusted source about it.

3. There is no such thing as normal.

Comparing yourself to others is easy to do, but it doesn’t help you be the best person you can be. Everyone’s journey is different.

2. Bad days happen.

But if you are feeling sad, anxious or depressed where it interferes with your daily life for more than two weeks, it’s time to reach out for assistance.

1.  The good news is that depression and anxiety are treatable.

Recommended treatment may include physical activity, counseling, and/or medication.

Conquering CHD encourages you to follow the recommended guidelines for specialized ACHD care. Adult congenital medical specialists are trained to address the comprehensive needs of adult patients with congenital heart conditions, including consideration of mental health care.

Co-authored by Conquering CHD and Tracy Livecchi, LCSW

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About Tracy Livecchi:

As a licensed social worker, Tracy is fortunate to have the opportunity to work in a profession she loves; she truly believes that shows in the work she does.

Tracy received her Masters Degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. She has worked in a variety of settings as a private therapist, a clinical director, and a consultant for long-term care and hospital settings. She has been working as a psychotherapist in private practice since 1998, and currently provides psychotherapy to individual adults, adolescents, and couples in her Westport practice.

She is passionate about mental health access for all and has a special interest in working with individuals and their families dealing with serious and chronic illness. She speaks nationally on the importance of addressing the psychosocial effects of heart disease, and recently co-authored a book about the psychosocial impacts of congenital heart disease. Full of evidence-based, easy to understand information about CHD, Healing Hearts and Minds offers strategies for learning to thrive despite living with this condition, but most importantly it offers hope and connection.

Tracy lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters.

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