At least one-third of people with chronic illness suffer from depression. Further, depression is one of the most common problems reported by chronically ill patients. When patients are faced with a life altering diagnosis, it can be easy for depression to set in.
When I found myself depressed, I hid my symptoms from my doctors and even family and friends. It is hard to deal with a combination of depression, chronic illness and life’s challenges and it is even more difficult to ask for help. At some point, I broke down and told my doctor about my symptoms which included sleeplessness, feelings of hopelessness, racing thoughts, constant sadness, loss of energy, fatigue and loss of interest in relationships. Over time and with medication and therapy, I learned that the depression wasn’t my fault and my outlook on life greatly improved. Seeking treatment and support bettered my life tremendously and it helped me to keep things in perspective.
The Stigma Associated With Depression
Our society associates such a stigma with depression that it forces people to hold their emotions and feelings in. It is such a stigma that 75% of those who are depressed do not seek treatment. The idea that our families, friends, or coworkers reacting to depression paralyzes people and keeps them from getting the help that they need. Unless someone is going through a major life event, such as divorce, death of a loved one or other trauma, people cannot even begin to understand what depression is or what it feels like. Our society views emotional pain as personal weakness and not a symptom of a physical disorder, chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency.
Chronic Illness and Depression Go Hand-in-Hand
For many with chronic illness, depression and chronic illness go hand-in-hand. When your body is sick, it is not unusual to become depressed because of pain and fatigue and as a result of fears about your health. Chronic illness also threatens your financial security, your relationships and future plans.
No one knows for certain why people with chronic illness are at a higher risk for depression but some theories include the diseases themselves, ineffective treatments, side effects of medications, difficulty coping and strain on relationships. Regardless of the connection, getting treatment for depression can help you to manage your illness effectively and successfully.
Recognizing and Treating Depression
Depression is more than just persistent sadness. If you are unsure as to whether you or someone you know is dealing with depression, there are some common signs to look for. These include:
• Continual sadness lasting more than two weeks.
• Lack interest in relationships and feeling unmotivated to participate in life.
• Feelings of irritability and frustration about things that didn’t used to bother you.
• Irregular sleeping patterns such as trouble falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and sleeping too much.
• Excessive weight loss or gain that is unexplained.
• Low self-esteem or feelings of low self-worth and/or feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
• Worsening chronic illness symptoms.
• Thinking or talking about death or thinking that you would be better off dead.
These symptoms are the most common in patients who are depressed. Watching out for these symptoms can help you to recognize what depression may look like.
There is no one-fits-all solution to treating depression. There are many different ways to treat depression and methods apply differently to each individual situation. The basic principles include medication, talk therapy, and treating the root of the problem (i.e. a chronic disease or traumatic event).
Depression is not Personal
I have learned is that depression isn’t personal. It is a part of biology and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. Seeking help for my depression was the intelligent and informed choice. Now that I am treating my depression and finding better methods of coping, I have stopped worrying about whether being depressed makes me weak, incapable or even crazy in anyone’s eyes. I am stronger and better for doing what I need to do in order to be a healthier. In the end, all I want to be is the mother my children deserve and with each passing day, I am getting stronger and I am appreciating life with a much clearer perspective.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medial disorder, like rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia and it needs treatment. There are plenty of influential people that have suffered from depression, including actors, Harrison Ford and Hugh Laurie. Footballer, Terry Bradshaw has also suffered and has since become an advocate for removing the stigma of depression.
If you are feeling depressed or experiencing the symptoms of depression, don’t be embarrassed or try to convince yourself that you can just will it away. Please talk to your doctor and believe that you will get the help you need and deserve it. Trust me, you are worth it.