Although dystonia is a movement disorder that impacts on the physical body, it can also impact on emotional and psychological health. Not only is the very nature of dystonia (particularly aspects like pain and disability) stressful, but also the areas of the brain affected by dystonia are associated, in part, with thinking and emotion as well as muscle movement.
For years mental health professionals have recognised that coping with a chronic disorder like dystonia is similar to grieving a loss, such as a death or divorce. Common phases of dealing with dystonia include denial, guilt, shame, anger, bargaining, fear, depression, and acceptance. In some cases, the adjustment to chronic illness is so drastic that an individual’s experience is comparable to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that affects survivors of combat or intense violence.
Similarly, the area of the brain that is implicated in dystonia, called the basal ganglia, are associated with not only controlling muscle movement, but also mood and behaviours, so it is not surprising that there is some evidence that people with dystonia may be at a higher risk of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety than the general population.