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Selena Gomez's Hospitalization Highlights a Problem With The Way We Treat Chronic Illness and Mental Illness

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Julia Metraux, The Mighty’s Chronic Illness Intern, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

On Wednesday, Selena Gomez, who has lupus, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after having a panic attack following a recent health setback. According to People, Gomez was hospitalized twice within the past few weeks for “a low blood cell count,” which can be a side effect of having a kidney transplant. While it’s important that she was able to get treatment for both her mental and physical health, her hospitalization shows how critical it is to address mental health in conjunction with chronic illness. 

Gomez’s most recent hospitalization is not the first time Gomez has sought help for mental health while managing her chronic illness. Gomez, who revealed she has lupus in 2015, recently received outpatient psychiatric treatment early in 2018 to address her anxiety.

Gomez is certainly not alone when it comes to having to deal with concurrent chronic illness and mental health issues. Chronic illness affects the mental health of many people who live with a chronic illness like Gomez.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that people who deal with chronic medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing depression than their counterparts. And evidence suggests there is a biological link between inflammation, a symptom of various chronic conditions including lupus, and depression. 

Social factors can also lead to people with chronic illness to develop mental health issues. If you have dealt with chronic medical issues, you may have felt isolated for one reason or another. This can range from having to take time off to take care for yourself or feeling abandoned by others who may not understand your condition. 

So, what stops people with chronic illness from seeking mental health treatment? For some, the answer could be associated costs and responsibilities. While it’s admirable and important that Gomez takes time off to treat her mental health, not everyone is afforded the same luxury.

On its own, costs associated with treating chronic illness conditions can be astronomical. For people who need to receive a kidney transplant like Gomez did, they may not have any money left over to pay for mental health treatment. According to the National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, costs associated with kidney failure for people on Medicare equaled tens of thousands of dollars in 2011. This included almost $88,000 for hemodialysis, a treatment for kidney failure, and around $33,000 for a transplant. Paying $100 on average for a session with a mental health professional may be out of the question for people balancing the costs of their chronic illness. 

Mental health treatment for those who are dealing with chronic medical conditions must become more affordable and available. I know how important this because, like Gomez, I was hospitalized in April this year after weeks of receiving bad news regarding my chronic illness.

I was then and am still trying to manage my systemic urticarial vasculitis. Three weeks prior to when I was hospitalized, I received the news that my chronic illness was in remission after over a year of severe symptoms. I was elated and thought that I had begun a new chapter in my life.

Two weeks later, I was in the Emergency Department covered in hives, had just received an Epipen injection and was on oxygen. I fell into a pit of despair and considered suicide daily because I was so devasted about how short my remission was — if you could even call it that. The next week, I was at South Station after visiting a friend at Harvard University. I was in so much pain due to my vasculitis symptoms and wanted it to stop.

I thought about attempting suicide, but someone stopped me.

I was hospitalized the next day for a week in a psychiatric ward because of my suicidal ideations. I was annoyed at the time, but I realize now how necessary this was. While I am dealing with a chronic illness that has severe symptoms, it’s not what nearly killed me in April — my depression was. I needed to get immediate help to treat my mental health, so I could continue my journey in treating my chronic illness.

Mental health treatment needs to be more available and affordable for people with chronic illness, but, first, we need to start talking about the intersection of chronic illness and mental health. Gomez is doing the right thing by addressing her mental health while dealing with chronic illness issues, and she should be commended for doing so.

Image via Creative Commons/conceptx_design

Originally published: October 12, 2018
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