Thyroid and your mental health – what’s the link?
In our recent survey, just over one in five people with a thyroid condition were initially diagnosed with a mental health condition. So, do these conditions crossover?
Thyroid disorders often share symptoms with other conditions, such as menopause and certain mental health disorders, which can sometimes result in misdiagnosis.
We ran a recent survey to investigate the relationship between mental health and thyroid conditions. With 797 responses, we found that more than one in five people with a thyroid condition were initially diagnosed with a mental health condition. So, how are the two conditions linked?
In this blog, we discuss:
- An introduction to the thyroid gland
- Mental health symptoms vs thyroid symptoms
- Why do mental health conditions and thyroid conditions share the same symptoms?
- How can I tell the difference between a thyroid condition and a mental health condition?
- Five tips on how to improve your mental health with a thyroid condition
- Where can I get support for my thyroid and mental health?
An introduction to the thyroid gland
The thyroid gland is located in the neck and produces thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. Thyroid hormones help to regulate many bodily functions, including metabolism and mood.
If the thyroid gland isn’t functioning normally, it can lead to an imbalance in thyroid hormones and several physical and mental health symptoms. Because of the crossover of symptoms between thyroid conditions and mental health conditions, the two can often be hard to tell apart. The table below outlines how symptoms relate to each condition.
Mental health symptoms vs thyroid symptoms
Why do mental health conditions and thyroid conditions share the same symptoms?
The relationship between thyroid function and mental health is a complex one. There are many ways the two are interlinked and it's likely we don't have the full picture.
Firstly, thyroid hormones help regulate the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, which affect your mood. Thyroid hormones also affect the brain's metabolic rate as well as the blood-brain barrier (which allows certain molecules to pass from the bloodstream to the brain). Both of these impact our brain function and mood.
A thyroid condition can also impact your energy levels, weight, concentration, or even appearance, which may have a knock-on effect on your mood, contributing to conditions like anxiety or depression .
Lastly, living with a chronic condition such as an over- or underactive thyroid can be challenging and eventually take its toll on mental health. So, while it's possible to have a thyroid condition and mental health condition independently, it's likely the two are linked in some way.
How might a thyroid condition affect my mood?
People with thyroid conditions often have emotional or mental health symptoms. Based on our 2023 survey of 797 participants, people reported that their thyroid condition made them feel:
- Misunderstood (55%)
- Sad (51%)
- Isolated (34%)
- Vulnerable (32%)
- Angry (30%)
As well as this, we found that nearly two in five (39%) participants had been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression alongside their thyroid condition.
It’s clear that mental health problems are more common with a thyroid condition, but it’s not all bad news. Getting the right treatment can really help. Almost half of participants (47%) agreed that their mental health symptoms have improved with thyroid medication or treatment. On top of this, leading a healthy lifestyle can really help you manage your symptoms. And there are lots of sources of support, from your GP or specialist to support groups.
How can I tell the difference between a thyroid condition and a mental health condition?
Because the symptoms of a mental health condition and thyroid condition can mimic each other, it can be very difficult to tell them apart. The most accurate way to determine whether there is a medical cause for your low mood is through a blood test.
A thyroid function blood test can help you assess whether your thyroid function may be contributing to your mental health problems. And if your thyroid function is normal, it's likely due to another cause, such as a mental health condition.
Regardless of whether your mental health is affected by your thyroid condition or not, you may benefit from further support such as healthy lifestyle changes, talking therapies, or medication.
Five tips on how to improve your mental health with a thyroid condition
Living with a long-term health condition can be draining, and at times, overwhelming. But, there are things you can put into place to ensure you are looking after your mental health and managing your condition as well as you can.
We’ve put together five tips to help you look after yourself and improve your mental health, whilst managing your thyroid condition.
1. Ensure you’re taking the right dose
Ensuring your thyroid hormones are stabilised with the right dose of medication and regular testing can prevent mental health symptoms worsening. Speak to your GP if your medication has been reviewed but you are still experiencing poor mental health.
2. Try some light exercise
Exercising with a thyroid condition can seem daunting – especially if you’re experiencing fatigue or brain fog. However, light exercise has proven to help improve symptoms as well as mental health. Try something light like a slow walk or yoga. You can find more information in our blog: five tips for exercising with a thyroid condition.
3. Surround yourself with others in the same boat
Not everyone will understand how you are feeling, but there are people out there that are in the same boat and may be able to provide you with a sense of empathy and understanding. Joining forums such as Thyroid UK can put you in touch with like-minded people and give you a safe space to share all your stresses and thoughts – a worry shared is a worry halved.
4. Build a self-care toolbox
Each person will have a way to look after their mental health. Some people enjoy dancing, others enjoy colouring or a hot bubble bath. Whatever activities bring you joy, add them to your self-care toolbox. And when you’re feeling low, pull from this toolbox.
5. Try some unconventional ways to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing
There are many conventional ways to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing, from trying meditation or journalling. But there are also some really interesting unconventional ways that you could try out, such as forest bathing or even chewing gum.
You can find out more in our blog: five unconventional ways to reduce stress.
Where can I get support for thyroid health and mental health?
If you have been feeling persistently low for more than two weeks or are struggling to get your mental health under control, it's important to speak to your GP.
Want to learn more about thyroid health? Visit our Thyroid Hub.
- Jurado-Flores, M., Warda, F. and Mooradian, A. (2022) “Pathophysiology and clinical features of neuropsychiatric manifestations of thyroid disease,” Journal of the Endocrine Society, 6(2). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1210/jendso/bvab194.
- Underactive thyroid symptoms and treatments (no date) Illnesses & conditions | NHS inform. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/glands/underactive-thyroid#:~:text=An%20underactive%20thyroid%20gland%20(hypothyroidism,weight%20gain%20and%20feeling%20depressed. (Accessed: April 18, 2023).
- Overactive thyroid symptoms and treatments (no date) Illnesses & conditions | NHS inform. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/glands/overactive-thyroid#:~:text=Symptoms%20of%20hyperthyroidism,difficulty%20sleeping%20(insomnia) (Accessed: April 18, 2023).
Thyroid Function Blood Test
The Thyroid Function Blood Test checks your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), free T3 (FT3) and free T4 (FT4) to see if you have the right level of thyroid hormones for a healthy metabolism
- Results estimated in 2 working days
- 3 biomarkers