Although you can have one without the other, in very many cases depression and chronic illnesses do go hand in hand.
So, what diseases are we talking about? This list is by no means exclusive but it includes a few examples: multiple sclerosis, heart disease, Parkinson’s, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and epilepsy. In fact, any illness that lasts for a very long time and is unlikely to be cured completely can be classes as chronic.
One reason that depression is common in people with a chronic illness is that they must adjust to the demands of the illness itself, as well as to the treatments for their condition. Their mobility and independence may be affected and change how they live. And it seems that any chronic condition can trigger depression but the more serious the illness, the greater the risk.
What’s more, it can all be a vicious circle as depression caused by chronic illness can itself aggravate the illness, particularly ones that cause fatigue or pain. This is because depression can intensify pain and cause fatigue – with all that entails.
According to medicinenet.com, the rate for depression occurring with other medical illnesses is quite high: Heart attack 40-65% experience depression, Coronary artery disease (without heart attack) 18-20%. Parkinson’s disease 40%, Multiple sclerosis 40%, Stroke 10-27%, Cancer 25%, and Diabetes 25%.
Patients and their family members often overlook the symptoms of depression, assuming that feeling depressed is normal for someone struggling with a serious, chronic illness. Symptoms of depression are also frequently masked by the other medical conditions, resulting in treatment for the symptoms — but not the underlying cause of the symptoms — the depression. It is extremely important to treat both forms of illness at the same time.
Treatment of depression in people with chronic disease is similar to that offered to other people with depression. Early diagnosis and treatment for depression can reduce distress, as well as the risk of complications and suicide. People who get treatment for depression that occurs at the same time as a chronic disease often experience an improvement in their overall medical condition, a better quality of life, and are more easily able to stick to their treatment plans.
If the depressive symptoms are related to the physical illness or side effects of medicine, treatment may just need to be adjusted or changed. If the depression is a separate problem, it can be treated with medicine or psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Treatment with antidepressant drugs can start to work within a few weeks.
Following are some tips to help you better cope with a chronic illness:
- Learn how to live with the physical effects of the illness
- Learn how to deal with the treatmen
- Make sure there is clear communication with your docto
- Try to maintain emotional balance to cope with negative feelings
- Try to maintain confidence and a positive self-image
- Get help as soon as symptoms of depression appear.
Strange as it may be, despite having both multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, I have never had depression although I have the greatest sympathy for people who do.