Mental Health

Changes or struggles with mood and excessive worry are experienced by many patients with IBD – this disease can be very difficult to deal with! Coping with the symptoms, the unpredictability of flares, having to take medications, attending appointments and the potential embarrassment you might experience at times can cause negative feelings, which might be associated with stress, anxiety or even depression.shutterstock_149387768

The mind-body connection is a strong one.  It is hard to be positive when you don’t feel great, and when you don’t feel great you are more likely to interpret things negatively, including symptoms or flares. You might have noticed that things start acting up physically when you feel particularly stressed or that a flare can make you feel stressed when things were just fine before it started. Stress is not unique to IBD, many other diseases are also associated with stress.

It is important to be aware of how you are feeling because you can get yourself into a cycle of anxiety-provoking thoughts or an extended period of depression if you don’t seek help.

Although it can differ from person-to-person, signs of a Major Depressive Disorder might include: a prolonged period (usually 2 weeks or more) of feeling sad or down, feeling more tired than usual, a loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyable, feeling hopeless, changes in appetite, avoiding social situations, and a general lack of motivation.

Signs of a major Anxiety Disorder to look out for: feeling overwhelmed, worried or nervous for an extended period of time (weeks-months), sleep problems, muscle tension, panic attacks (sudden onset of symptoms which can include heart racing or palpitations, tingling in hands or arms, racing thoughts, chest tightness, trouble breathing normally, feeling like you are going to faint/dizziness).

Stress is a little different from an Anxiety Disorder in that we usually know the exact reason why we are stressed, for example, something to do with work, school, family/friend conflicts or other common life stressors. Stress can be a normal daily occurrence, but an Anxiety Disorder develops when stress gets out of hand and you start to feel worried in general, even about little things. It infiltrates other areas of your life and is not just a reaction to one concrete thing.



Whether you’re concerned about stress, or that you might have a clinically significant Depressive or Anxiety Disorder, it is important to discuss these concerns with your gastroenterologist and family physician. They may recommend a few different things, including therapy with a psychiatrist, which could involve cognitive behavioural therapy or medications, among many other options – it all depends on what works best for you. Other types of support can come from psychologists, clinical social workers or even guidance counselors at your school!

Talk to family or close friends. Confiding in people can help relieve some of the burden. Problems with anxiety and depression are widespread in our society, so the odds are high that most people know someone who is coping with mental health issues. You don’t need to deal with it alone.

Other things you can do in the meantime:

  • Focus on your breathing if you feel stressed out – Try to keep bringing your attention back to your breath no matter what thought is in your head. You can also aim to slow and lengthen your breaths by inhaling for 3 seconds, holding for one and then exhaling for 5 or so seconds. This may help to slow your heart rate down if you feel it is racing.
  • Exercise – Moderate exercise can release brain chemicals that lead to mood improvement.


  • Meditation – This can be done on your own in any environment and involves quieting the mind. You can focus on the breath, visualize calming scenery, imagine your thoughts floating away, repeat a mantra, or just sit still and listen in on the chatter of your mind, without judgment. This can be a difficult skill to master but if you’re interested, there are many books, podcasts and apps available. Find guides that suit your personal preference – meditation is a personal thing that can be done many different ways.
  • Journaling – If you don’t feel like talking to someone at the moment or want to get something out of your head, writing it out can help you sort through it. Sometimes coming back to it later can give you the perspective to see that things turned out okay afterward or that the thoughts you had before weren’t really an accurate reflection of the situation.
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Additional Mental Health Support & Information


If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or you are fearful that you may do something to harm yourself or others, go to your nearest emergency room.

In Edmonton, you can also call:

780-342-7777 to reach a 24/7, mobile crisis team for adults

780-427-4491 to reach a mobile crisis team for people 17 and under



For less urgent matters, you might be interested in these sites:

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Canadian Mental Health Association

Bell Let’s Talk

Kids Help Phone

Anxiety Panic Support

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Romantic Relationships

IBD can be a difficult subject to bring up. You may not need to tell someone as soon as you start dating, but perhaps once you have built up a measure of trust, you will feel comfortable explaining things a little bit. If you have an ostomy, scars or visible signs of disease, it is a good idea to give your partner a heads up about what those are, before things get intimate. It is always beneficial to get to know someone before you reach that stage. shutterstock_88641013

There is no reason that someone with IBD cannot have a romantic relationship. It might be uncomfortable to bring up the sensitive subjects at first and you might encounter some people who can’t deal with it. If they just need more information or time to process, that is fair because it can be hard to comprehend – Just think about your own learning curve when you were diagnosed.

When looking for a partner, empathy and understanding are important traits to consider. We all want to be with someone who can be supportive in tough situations, even if you aren’t dealing with a chronic illness.

If you choose to be in a relationship, the difficult discussions and any obstacles you face together will hopefully make your relationship deeper and stronger. Many people will suffer a chronic illness in life, and people who are healthy now can later be diagnosed with illnesses. Good health is never guaranteed and chronic illnesses come with being human. Relationships can help people through these times, if you are open with one another. Just because you might get sick at times, that doesn’t change the fact that you have something great to offer in a relationship – YOU!

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AbbVie IBD Scholarship program:

Along with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, they award ten $5,000 scholarships to students with IBD pursuing post-secondary education.

Find out more about how to apply on their website.

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Career planning


IBD might put your goals off temporarily or delay your journey in achieving them, but in general, people with IBD have similar education and career opportunities as the rest of the population. People with IBD exist in every type of career – they are athletes, music/TV/film celebrities, physicians, lawyers, you name it. So try to stay positive and be resilient when you experience a setback – life can be unpredictable, but you control your response to and attitude toward it.

People with IBD will have varying degrees of disease severity. What one person is able to do, may not be the case for another person with IBD. Energy levels and, consequently, ability to do work can be compromised if your disease is severe or flaring. You have to listen to your body and do what is right for your health and interests. While your body and health need to come first, this does not mean you need to put aside your interests. In fact, staying engaged in life and motivated in your personal interests is one way to combat or prevent mental health issues.

A great approach to a big goal is to break it down into smaller accomplishable tasks with deadlines. Try to be realistic about the amount of time it will take you to complete each task. For example, maybe your degree or diploma program will take you five years instead of four if you need to take some of it part-time, due to illness. Plan for the unexpected so that your expectations are realistic. Engage people in your goals! Having a social support network is great motivation and will hold you accountable to what you say you will do.shutterstock_247624648

Don’t hesitate to get involved in things that really interest you. Try volunteering in fields of interest. Let organizations know your time commitment might have to be flexible depending on your health, but that you are very passionate about this cause and learning more. The more experience you have, the easier it will be to find a career path that is right for you.

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Success Stories

This section is under development.

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