Depression and chronic illnesses can go together

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%.

depression-1252577_960_720Medicinenet.com continues:
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.

 

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MS diagnosis – It’s normal to grieve

modern-day-ms_edited teresa wright-johnson

Reading a great article It is normal to grieve after MS diagnosis by Teresa Wright-Johnson1 in Modern Day MS, and seeing that depression was part of her grieving process, reminded me of two things.

First is that grief is ok. Whatever you are grieving about, whether it is the loss of someone close to you, or a pet that was part of your family, or the projected loss of your future through the diagnosis of MS or another chronic illness, it is a natural process. But, although there are several recognised steps said to be involved, the most important thing to remember is that all grief is personal. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do this or that. Everyone grieves in their own way; no need to feel guilty, you do it your way.

Secondly, before moving to Spain last November, I used to belong to the MS Register2 which asks people like me to provide information on life with MS in the UK. Some of the regular questionnaires were about physical aspects such as mobility, balance and so on. But others were about mental states including attitudes and depression. Now, here, I must add that my description of MS Register is an extremely simplified one; there’s much more to it than that. So, if you live in the UK and have MS, I urge you to join. Anyway, my point is that the Register includes questions about your happiness, your ability to laugh and enjoy things as well as depression itself.

In her article, Teresa readily admits that depression was part of her grieving process. She writes:

Depression has become a familiar foe. We travel together more often than I am comfortable admitting. Depression is a bandit and has the capacity to steal hope and joy. Both are needed in order to fight adversity. Reflection became a major component in my life. It felt as though I watched my entire life pass by. I couldn’t stop thinking about who I used to be before my diagnosis and I longed for the loss of the woman I was before multiple sclerosis.

At times, it feels as though my life took a wrong turn down a one-way street with no road leading back to my original, vivacious and authentic self. The longing I felt and still feel at times is overwhelming and often inexplicable. It’s ironic how you can be surrounded by tons of people and still feel alone, fighting a battle only you know exists.

I must have been very lucky as, so far at least, I have not been depressed in the 14 years since my diagnosis with MS. Yes, occasionally I get frustrated that I cannot do something – but not depressed. Whatever is the future is just that, the future. I won’t worry now about something that, hopefully, may never happen.

 

 

1 To read Teresa Wright-Johnson’s full article in Modern Day MS, follow this link: http://moderndayms.com/

2 If you have MS, live in the UK and would like to know more about MS Register, follow this link: https://www.ukmsregister.org/Portal/Home