When Chronic Illness Causes Depression


 anxiety_depression_may_raise_stroke_riskAt 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.

9 Replies to “When Chronic Illness Causes Depression”

  1. I know clinical depression oh so well. You are so right, people tend to hide it for fear due to the stigma that’s attached to it. I’ve dealt with depression as long as I can remember and did nothing about it until 2002. 🙂 Excellent post Lana.

  2. I don’t hide it, and I’m not ashamed of it. I have had chronic pain for 6 1/2 years and my whole life has turned upside down. You know the drill — tons of doctors, procedures, medications, experimental meds or procedures, hundreds of physical therapy classes, tons of my own research, ER visits, hospitalization, tons of lab tests, dietary changes, conflicting advice, serious side effects from medications, not being believed, loss of my career as a lawyer for 20+ years, loss of many friends, bedridden or housebound much of the time, can’t travel, can’t do things with my 2 boys (17 and almost 21) or my significant other (almost 11 years). And the pain for the most part was between 5-9 every day, all day, until I recently went on Buprenorphine which has lowered it to about a 3-6 but I’ve got weird and painful side effects. Who wouldn’t be depressed? I can’t imagine there is a person WITH chronic illness/pain who is NOT depressed. I am particularly concerned about my lack of effort or desire to socialize or do anything, and the Buprenorphine makes me very sleepy so driving is rarely an option and I have to sleep in the afternoons because I simply cannot keep my eyes open. Thank you for your post. I have a psychiatrist and she is helpful, but it’s been such a long time and I tend to make the effort and then have setbacks. I’m in a period of just wanting peace & quiet. I’m tired of explaining the inexplicable too. And I get social anxiety now when I do go out or participate in something. I wonder if this is a phase or my future. I hope the former, but fear the latter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s