Could sleep apnea be affecting your mental health?

The association between sleep apnea and mental health is a well-established one. What is less clear is whether sleep apnea predisposes people to suffer from mental health problems, or whether mental illness may, in some way, increase the likelihood of sleep apnea developing.

A recent study showed that people with sleep apnea suffered disproportionately from mental health issues: not only were sleep apnea sufferers disproportionately more likely to have a mental health problem (including not only mood disorders but also serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia), they were also less likely to be receiving the appropriate care.

Here we consider three of the barriers which can prevent sleep apnea sufferers from seeking appropriate mental health assistance, and how to overcome them.

Your symptoms may not be due to sleep apnea

Feeling lethargic, unmotivated, miserable or apathetic can all be symptoms of uncontrolled sleep apnea, but may also be symptoms of a separate mental health condition. If your sleep apnea is well-controlled, but symptoms persist, this could mean that there is a need for mental health assessment and treatment.

Use an advocate

Sleep apnea can leave sufferers feeling extremely tired, meaning they find advocating for themselves a challenge. Particularly if mental health problems are adding to feelings of exhaustion and lethargy, it can feel as if getting the appropriate help is simply too difficult. This is where a friend, partner or other trusted adult can help. Not only can they assist practically (for example by giving you a lift to medical appointments if you feel unable to go under your own steam), they can also explain to your medical provider about the problems you’re facing and push for your needs to be addressed.

Keep pushing for treatment

Sometimes it’s all too easy to be fobbed off with treatments or lifestyle advice which fail to get to the root of the problems you’re experiencing. If the initial measures suggested don’t help, it’s important to go back to your medical provider and request some additional treatment options.

The fact that sleep apnea sufferers are more prone to mental health problems means it’s vital that regular assessment and treatment of their mental health needs forms a part of any on-going management programme.

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