When Physical Illness and Mental Illness Triggers Collide

December 23, 2013 Paulissa Kipp

Physical illness can trigger mental illness, and so can going to the doctor where they poke and prod. Medical emergencies are scary but here are ways to cope.Let's face it: physical illness and mental illness don't mix. Dealing with mental illness symptoms of exhaustion, tension in the body, headaches (and the list goes on and on) is difficult. Mix in the flu or virus and between the two, it can feel as though you are boxing shadows. I recently experienced this and while I feel a bit better, there are observations that I made that I hope will help others.

I developed a case of the sniffles and some sinus fun a couple of weeks ago. I began treating it as I always do, with morning and evening rounds of nasal rinsing, lemon/ginger tea, rest and OTC sinus medicine. Things appeared to be improving until the coughing and wheezing appeared. Things culminated with a trip to the hospital this weekend and being admitted for 24 hours for breathing treatments, testing for influenza and other infectious lung diseases. I ended up having a positive result for RSV, a highly contagious respiratory virus.

Physical Illness Can Trigger Mental Illness Symptoms

For a person with bipolar disorder, panic, PTSD and a hearing impairment, it is both frightening and frustrating. Being asked questions at machine gun pace, while trying to understand them through surgical masks and having no voice to answer them with, is frustrating. Nurses in my face with masks, etc., and not letting me adjust them so that I can see them coming at me to do procedures? Triggering.

My PTSD triggers are people or things near my face and being touched without permission. Shots or needles without letting me know it's coming and you'll peel me off the ceiling for hours. Nurse: "I find telling patients when the needle is coming makes it worse, so I don't." I hope you had fun peeling me off the ceiling.

Managing Mental Health Triggers in Medical Situations

There were steps that my husband and I took that reduced some of the frustration around my mental health triggers:

1. Let your care team know that you deal with depression or other psychological condition and if you have known mental health triggers and how those might play out in your responses. This includes every medical person who might touch you. That self-advocacy goes a long way to keep you from experiencing unnecessary trauma.

2. Keep a current medication list in a document and have copies available when you go to the doctor or hospital. If you are unable to communicate, they can look at and input information from that document. I couldn't speak because I was coughing and wheezing too badly. There were questions that my husband could answer and others that he didn't know the answers to.

3. As much as you are able, try to do yogic breathing when uncomfortable procedures are being done. Breathe in for 4 breaths, out for 4 breaths.

4. Try to stay present. You may have bruising from procedures, be uncomfortable with how things are done, etc. Try to remember that this is a part of healing and getting better, that the care team is there to help, not hurt you.

Being sick and healing are hard work. So, things have stabilized and I am back home and slowly getting better. Wiser, inhaling deeply and healthier.

APA Reference
Kipp, P. (2013, December 23). When Physical Illness and Mental Illness Triggers Collide, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Paulissa Kipp

February, 4 2014 at 2:10 pm

nice blog..really helpful :)
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In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Paulissa Kipp
February, 8 2014 at 3:55 am

Thank you. What did you find helpful about it.

April, 19 2014 at 1:06 pm

Sony True Ik lay on my coach fully dressed for the
night. Bed is not yet an option but in am working hard to take that step. The triggers are reagonized
by me, but in order to protect myself, ik step back
into aan "safe". Nomandsland.
take care, warm greetings from the netherlands.

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