Dizziness and Mental Health: What is the Relationship?
Today we are going to discuss the interplay of dizziness and mental health. I frequently hear this question from my patients, their concerned friends or their family members:
“Does everyone who is suffering with dizziness have mental health issues such as anxiety or depression?”
The evidence-based answer is that it is currently estimated by researchers that about 40% of people who have dizziness and vertigo are also suffering with some kind of mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression.
In my practice, I find that the majority of patients who are suffering with dizziness and vertigo do also report some level of increased stress, nervousness, worry, hopelessness, frustration, despair or confusion regarding their condition. Occasionally, my patients even report panic attacks or PTSD-type symptoms due to severe vertigo attacks they have experienced.
Some of my patients have been diagnosed by a physician with an anxiety disorder, PTSD or depression, but many have no formal diagnosis of any mental health issue. My patients will often tell me if they have struggled with mental health issues before they experienced dizziness or only after the dizziness or vertigo started.
I think of the relationship between dizziness and mental health much like the classic chicken vs. the egg dilemna – which came first?
For example, it is sometimes difficult to determine:
- Was the anxiety present first and then the experience of anxiety, panic attacks and/ or hyperventilation contributed to the symptoms of dizziness?
- Was the dizziness and vertigo present first and then the dizziness and vertigo caused the anxiety? Or caused a worsening of pre-existing anxiety?
- Is the presence of anxiety making the dizziness feel worse and last longer than it would otherwise? Therefore prolonging the recovery?
When I work with my patients, I always address both their dizziness and mental health. By going over all their symptoms, I get a better understanding of the patient’s dizziness and mental health relationship.
Unaddressed mental health issues can reduce the final level of recovery achievable in physical therapy.
For example, persistent anxiety can interfere with important brain recovery processes, such as central compensation and sensory integration, by keeping your body in a “fight or flight” state. Another example is that depression can reduce your ability to show up for therapy sessions and keep up with any home exercises prescribed by your physical therapist.
When I address both the physical causes of dizziness or vertigo, and the mental health conditions that I find in those who are suffering, the results are better and the healing is more deep and more complete. I have noticed this is especially true for those who have been suffering for a long time or have the most severe cases of dizziness or vertigo.
People may need mental health support by a trained professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a marriage and family therapist to provide them with the counseling and support that they need as they are going through the vestibular rehab.
Specialized mental health support along with vestibular rehab often allows people to have the best possible recovery from their dizziness and mental health issues. A research article I recently reviewed stated a research finding that supported improved outcomes for vestibular rehab patients with anxiety who also sought out cognitive-behavioral therapy at the same time.
If you are someone who is suffering with anxiety or depression and you also have dizziness and vertigo, I highly recommend for you to seek out a vestibular specialist to evaluate the dizziness and vertigo at the Vestibular Disorders Association.
I also recommend that you consider seeking out professional mental health support if your symptoms of anxiety and depression are persistent, or impairing your ability to participate in therapy, take care of yourself and move forward with your recovery.
That combination of specialized care will allow you to have the best possible recovery from your symptoms and help you enjoy an improvement in your quality of life, even if you have issues with dizziness and mental health issues.
For some tips on managing anxiety symptoms, click here.
This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.