Both our physical and mental health are important for our wellbeing. Just as our physical health gets worse when we get a physical illness, so our mental health can get worse if we have a mental health condition. This can happen to anyone and is quite common - one in four people experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Mental health conditions are very real illnesses and treatment is frequently necessary.

There are many different types of mental health condition. Some common types are:

  • Depression which can include feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness, crying, worry, low self-esteem, a lack of energy, sleeping difficulties and a bleak view of the future.
  • Anxiety which can include symptoms such as persistent nervousness, tension or worry, a sense of dread, and difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) which is a disorder where unwanted thoughts, urges and repetitive activities become an obstacle to living life as you want to.
  • Psychosis is a more serious mental health condition, when the person can experience hallucinations (hear or see things that are not there) and delusions (have beliefs that are false) and symptoms can become so severe that the person loses contact with reality.  

A related psychological issue is stress which is when we feel we have too much to do or too much on our minds, or other people are making unreasonable demands on us, or we are dealing with situations that we do not have control over which exceed our ability to cope with them. Everyone experiences stress from time to time and it is not a medical diagnosis, but severe stress may sometimes lead to or be a sign of depression or anxiety.

There is a lot of stigma related to mental health conditions which can make people reluctant to admit to themselves or others that they have an illness. It is very important that this barrier is overcome to ensure the mental health condition receives the necessary treatment.

The relationship between dystonia and mental health

Mental health is a sensitive topic for many people with dystonia as many cases of dystonia are initially mistaken for a mental health (or psychological) condition. In the vast majority of cases, dystonia is a neurological condition and does not have a mental health cause.

However, it is also increasingly understood, that although mental health conditions do not normally cause dystonia, there can be an important inter-relationship between dystonia and mental health in some cases. This relationship can be two-way:

  • Many people with dystonia report that stress and anxiety can aggravate their symptoms of dystonia.
  • The symptoms of dystonia may cause depression or anxiety as a result of pain, disruption of daily activities or social isolation.  
  • In addition, it is now thought that people affected by dystonia are more likely to experience mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and OCD even before the physical symptoms of dystonia appear. It is not known why this is – but it appears that whatever causes dystonia may also affect mood and behaviour in some way.   

This is very much an individual experience – many people with dystonia never have mental health conditions. However, where such conditions do appear, the ability to cope with dystonia will be much improved if these are treated alongside the physical symptoms. In addition, people with dystonia often find it a relief to learn that mental health conditions can appear together with dystonia and are nothing to be ashamed about.