The Link Between IBD And Mental Health Issues Explained

Mental health statistics can be eye-opening and sometimes alarming. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (or 57.8 million people) experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults (19.1% of the population) each year, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness. These disorders can cause intense fear or worry and can interfere with daily activities, making it difficult for individuals to lead full and satisfying lives. 

A number of different factors can impact your mental health, from your genetics and biology to your environment and life experiences, explains Mind. Interestingly, some other medical conditions may also be linked to mental health disorders. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), for example, is an umbrella term for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis — inflammatory conditions that affect the digestive tract, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the physical symptoms of an IBD are well-known, the condition can also significantly impact mental health.

IBD and mood disorders

Several studies have found a strong link between IBD and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. For example, a 2021 review published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry found that anxiety and depression were common psychological disorders in people with IBD. Another 2016 review published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that individuals with an IBD had a 19.1% and 21.2% risk of developing anxiety and depression respectively.

One reason why an IBD may be linked to mental health issues is that chronic pain, fatigue, and other physical symptoms can lead to feelings of stress, suggests the 2021 study. Additionally, the unpredictability of various IBD symptoms and the need to manage symptoms on a daily basis may cause significant psychological distress. In addition to gut imbalances, depression and personality changes are listed as side effects of certain medications used to treat an IBD, such as corticosteroids, according to an article published by U.S. Pharmacist.

How IBD affects the brain-gut connection

Though having to manage IBD can lead to stress and mental health struggles, there may also be a biological connection between the gut and the brain. The gut has its own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system, which communicates with the central nervous system and can affect mood and behavior, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. It is thought that the inflammation and changes in gut microbiota that occur in people with an IBD may disrupt this communication, leading to changes in mood and behavior, as explained in a 2020 review published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases.

When concerning treatment, your doctor may choose to address both the physical and emotional aspects of IBD to reduce the impact of the condition on overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, a holistic approach to treatment is commonly used. It may include medication management, psychotherapy, and lifestyle interventions such as exercise, stress management, and a healthy diet.