Is IBD Caused by Mental Disorders?

It was once thought that IBD and mental illness were closely related

Girl Under Stress
Stress and anxiety can affect your health, but those conditions will not cause IBD. Photo © marin

Most people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have have heard that mental illness is causing the symptoms. People who aren't educated about IBD may say things like, "Maybe you'd feel better if you'd just relax," or "Aren't your problems just caused by stress?" In some cases people may be trying to help, and may just be misinformed about IBD. In others, people genuinely believe that  digestive problems are caused by psychological conditions.

Why Do People Believe This?

This association may have gotten started with the idea of a "nervous stomach" or that people who had digestive problems were anxious or had a "type A" personality. However, it is important to note that IBD is not caused by a psychological condition. One study noted that the symptoms of depression and anxiety may even come about as a result of having symptoms of an undiagnosed digestive disease.

Years ago, it was thought that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and mental disorders were linked, and that most people who had IBD also had a personality or anxiety disorder or depression. Even people who had IBD might have thought this to be true about themselves.

IBD Can Affect The Whole Patient

This is not to say that IBD is not, at times, associated with depression or anxiety. Chronic illness can leave some patients needing extra help in coping. In some cases, it's not that a diagnosis of depression or anxiety caused a diagnosis of IBD, but rather the reverse, that IBD has lead to other problems.

IBD can leave people feeling lonely, isolated, and hopeless, especially when symptoms are severe and keeping them from having a social life. Some people with IBD experience complications and multiple or prolonged hospitalizations, which can dramatically lower the quality of life.

People with IBD should be evaluated for stress and depression, because these factors can lead to exacerbation of symptoms and a poorer quality of life.

There are mental health professionals that specialize in treating patients with IBD, and can help patients to get a healthier outlook on life.

Sources:

Kurina LM, Goldacre MJ, Yeates D, Gill LE. "Depression and anxiety in people with inflammatory bowel disease." J Epidemiol Community Health Oct 2001;55:716-720. 12 Jan 2011.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Facts and Fallacies About Digestive Diseases." National Institutes of Health Publication No. 04–2673 Oct 2003. 12 Jan 2011.

Robertson DA, Ray J, Diamond I, Edwards JG. "Personality profile and affective state of patients with inflammatory bowel disease." Gut 1989;30:623-626. 12 Jan 2011.

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