Chronic illness & mental health
Depression is a real illness. Treatment can help you live to the fullest extent possible, even when you have another illness.
It is common to feel sad or discouraged after a heart attack, a cancer diagnosis, or if you are trying to manage a chronic condition like pain. You may be facing new limits on what you can do and feel anxious about treatment outcomes and the future. It may be hard to adapt to a new reality and to cope with the changes and ongoing treatment that come with the diagnosis. Your favorite activities, like hiking or gardening, may be harder to do.
Temporary feelings of sadness are expected, but if these and other symptoms last longer than a couple of weeks, you may have depression. Depression affects your ability to carry on with daily life and to enjoy work, leisure, friends, and family. The health effects of depression go beyond mood—depression is a serious medical illness with many symptoms, including physical ones. Some symptoms of depression are:
- • Feeling sad, irritable, or anxious
- • Feeling empty, hopeless, guilty, or worthless
- • Loss of pleasure in usually-enjoyed hobbies or activities, including sex
- • Fatigue and decreased energy, feeling listless
- • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- • Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much. Waking too early
- • Eating too much or not wanting to eat at all, possibly with unplanned weight gain or loss
- • Thoughts of death, suicide or suicide attempts
- • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
Remember: Depression is treatable—even if you have another medical illness or condition.
People with other chronic medical conditions have a higher risk of depression.
The same factors that increase risk of depression in otherwise healthy people also raise the risk in people with other medical illnesses. These risk factors include a personal or family history of depression or loss of family members to suicide.
However, there are some risk factors directly related to having another illness. For example, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke cause changes in the brain. In some cases, these changes may have a direct role in depression. Illness-related anxiety and stress can also trigger symptoms of depression.
Depression is common among people who have chronic illnesses such as the following:
- • Cancer
- • Coronary heart disease
- • Diabetes
- • Epilepsy
- • Multiple sclerosis
- • Stroke
- • Alzheimer’s disease
- • HIV/AIDS
- • Parkinson’s disease
- • Systemic lupus erythematosus
- • Rheumatoid arthritis
Sometimes, symptoms of depression may follow a recent medical diagnosis but lift as you adjust or as the other condition is treated. In other cases, certain medications used to treat the illness may trigger depression. Depression may persist, even as physical health improves.
Research suggests that people who have depression and another medical illness tend to have more severe symptoms of both illnesses. They may have more difficulty adapting to their co-occurring illness and more medical costs than those who do not also have depression.
It is not yet clear whether treatment of depression when another illness is present can improve physical health. However, it is still important to seek treatment. It can make a difference in day-to-day life if you are coping with a chronic or long-term illness.
- National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.) Retrieved September 13, 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml