“Meet other people with MS. Talk to them, create a network, tell them your problems and listen to theirs, learn from them.”
If you have multiple sclerosis, looking after your mental and emotional health is just as important as managing your physical symptoms.
Article medically reviewed by Karen Vernon an MS Nursing Specialist at Salford Royal Foundation Trust, UK.
In our guide to multiple sclerosis symptoms – which you can read here – we focused primarily on the impact multiple sclerosis can have on someone physically. Fatigue, difficulty walking, problems with vision and muscle spasms are all common symptoms of MS, but we know that these, which can affect some people more than others, are sometimes just the tip of the iceberg.
Below the surface of visible physical multiple sclerosis symptoms, there can be much more going on. We’re talking about how your mental health might be affected by MS. Let’s take a closer look at tips for looking after your mental health if you’re living with multiple sclerosis.
“Since being diagnosed, I choose to focus on keeping myself fit and healthy – something I can control. I prioritise my physical and mental health and wellbeing above everything else.” @lucyg
Mental health issues can affect anyone, at any time of their life, and regardless of age. Poor mental health symptoms can certainly start before a diagnosis of MS, but the onset of multiple sclerosis can exacerbate them – or learning you have MS can be the trigger that leads to mental health issues.
An MS diagnosis can deliver some certainty and the start of acceptance, but it can also come as a huge shock for someone. One of our members has described it as a ‘rug-pulled-out-from-under-you’ feeling. Being diagnosed with MS and the urgent decisions that often come from that - possible treatments, lifestyle adjustments, disclosure to loved ones - can be challenging to process at the same time. Another has spoken of being in a period almost like mourning – mourning for the loss of their old self.
That’s not unusual; in fact, many members of the Shift.ms community have commented on a grieving process, following diagnosis. It’s an important place to start, because while people can react in different ways to receiving a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, it’s common to feel worried, overwhelmed, ‘down’ or even guilty.
It’s completely natural, and understandable, to find the post-diagnosis period challenging for your mental health – so allow yourself time to absorb and digest what you’ve been told. Accept that you might feel angry, or ‘lost’ or helpless for a little while; no-one expects you to cruise through this period unaffected.
below, in an episode from our @shiftms-films video series, ‘Me, Myself & I’, Sarah talks honestly about the anxiety that her MS diagnosis has caused.
“I still have not come to terms with my diagnosis but I am trying to focus on my daily self-care routines to keep my mental health in check.” @hdhaliwal
The first tip on looking after your mental health when you have MS is to find support. You may feel lonely, but you don’t have to face any of this alone. Talking to family and friends can be a big help for many but others may feel as if the people closest to them don’t really understand the impact of having multiple sclerosis – or that they prefer to shield their true feelings from them to prevent being a ‘burden’.
Should I go for counselling? I am very good at putting on a front for family and friends, I don’t want them worrying/stressing about me, but I don’t know how to open up a conversation with a health professional. @Colette