In episode 288, I received a question from an individual who has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and has been feeling overwhelmed as to how they can understand the connection between this and their mental health difficulties. In this post, I talk about hypothyroidism, how it relates to mental health, and offer pointers to help you take action.
Hey I have recently found your podcast and it has really helped me in my journey of mental health. I’ve had mental struggles for the past 5 years since my dad passed away, and the last year I’ve struggled really hard with depression and anxiety. I finally got an appointment with my doctor and my aunt suggested I do lab work to check for underlying issues, and found I had hypothyroidism. Everyone says there’s a huge connection between that and mental health problems because of the hormonal side but it’s overwhelming, how can I understand how my physical health and mental health relate to each other in this context, and how can I fix it? Also is it possible I have mental health problems outside of this diagnosis? Thank you so much!
Thank you for this. It’s a really good question. You are right that we talk a whole lot about hormones, thyroid issues, etc as a potential source of mental health symptoms, but we don’t really talk a whole lot about what to do when you do realize that there actually is a physical issue going on. For your situation in particular, we are talking about hypothyroidism. Let me give a quick review of what that means.
What is hypothyroidism?
The thyroid is a gland in your neck that secretes hormones that help to regulate your body in a variety of ways including breathing and heart rate, sleep, and metabolism. When you have an underproduction of thyroid hormones, that is called hypothyroidism and when you have an overproduction, it’s called hyperthyroidism. Generally speaking, hypothyroidism causes symptoms that can mimic depression and hyperthyroidism can mimic anxiety symptoms. There can also be a bit of a cyclical interaction. For example, in a case like yours, hypothyroidism can cause fatigue and lack of motivation. This can make it harder for you to do activities that generate a sense of reward and happiness. This may contribute to feelings of depression, which cause further apathy and lack of motivation, and the cycle continues.
A similar thing can happen for hyperthyroidism where the elevation in your body causes you to feel as though you are anxious, which in turn causes legitimate anxiety. So, it can definitely be both. You can have underlying mood issues along with the hormonal thing, you can have mood issues CAUSED by the hormonal thing, or you can just have thyroid issues and that’s the extent of it.
Understanding the interaction
One of the most important things you can do to start to tease this apart is to get medical treatment. Work with your doctor on regulating your thyroid. This can be with medication or possibly other interventions – they will guide you on that. In some cases, they may refer you to a specialist to better evaluate and manage the issue. Once things start to become more under control and your thyroid hormone levels are normal, then you will be left with a more clear picture of what you are left with mental health-wise.
I think it’s pretty clear that you have struggled with mental health in general over the past few years. It seems like there have been some significant life issues that have contributed to that, which is totally understandable. It could be that there has been an underlying health issue for a while that has made these things more difficult to deal with, but it’s also reasonable that you have been struggling just in your own right. You might take identifying this physical health issue as a jumping off point to just take great care of yourself in general. For example, you might take the next 6 months to year as a time of progress for you. You can work on getting your thyroid under control. At the same time, you can work on your physical health and habits in general, since those are also related to mental health. Finally, you can get some therapy or whatever intervention you think may be appropriate to start working more significantly on the anxiety and depression. Regardless of the exact source, through therapy you should be able to learn some tools and gain some insight that will help you to better cope with your mental health symptoms.
The truth of the matter
In the end, if you can make some progress and feel more stable then that is what matters. In the future, if your physical health remains under control and you slip back into periods of significant depression or anxiety, you know that it’s probably more of a mental health issue. Either way, this is worth paying attention to and I’m glad you are putting in the legwork to do so. When in doubt, journal and track things as well. Regularly check in and keep track of your mood, energy level, and any other metrics you think would be important to track along with the circumstances in your life – that way you can look back on them in the future, look for trends, and help your doctors sort things out if need be.
Thanks for the question. I think that things are going to start moving in a more positive direction for you soon!
You can listen to this on Episode 288 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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