Has a serious or chronic illness got you depressed?

March 29, 2018 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Coping with an illness is hard enough. You may feel tired or in pain. The illness can limit activities you once took for granted. But the effects don’t stop at the physical.

A serious or chronic illness or condition can change the way you live, see yourself and relate to others. Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness, affecting up to one-third of individuals. Other mental health effects include anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD and more.

The rate of depression is high in people after a heart attack, with about 40-65 percent of people experiencing depression. It’s also common in people with chronic illnesses like the following:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stroke
  • Epilepsy
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lupus

Many people feel sad or discouraged when faced with a chronic condition. The physical changes, anxiety and stress associated with the illness can trigger symptoms of depression. The risk of depression increases with the severity of the illness and the level of life disruption it causes. A personal or family history of depression raises the risk even more.

Certain medications to treat the illness may also trigger depression. Some conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke, cause changes in the brain that can lead to depression.

How can you tell if you’re depressed? The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists some symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad, irritable or anxious
  • Feeling empty, hopeless, guilty or worthless
  • Loss of pleasure in hobbies or activities you usually enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy, feeling listless
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • Eating too much or not wanting to eat at all
  • Thoughts of death, suicide or suicide attempts
  • Unexplained or persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems

Symptoms may come on right after a diagnosis, and lift as you adjust to your condition. But if symptoms persist, don’t dismiss them as a normal part of having a chronic illness. Depression can interfere with your quality of life and keep you from getting proper treatment.

Depression is treatable — even when you’re dealing with another illness alongside it. Treatment for depression can make a difference in day-to-day life when you are coping with a chronic or long-term illness. It is important to treat both forms of illness at the same time.

Try these tips for mental wellness while coping with a serious or chronic illness:

  • Be your own advocate. Become an active participant in your treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Choose a care team you can trust and who makes you feel like a priority.
  • Speak up about symptoms. Pay attention to your mood and let your doctor know as soon as symptoms of depression appear, or if you think you’re heading in that direction.
  • Find support. When you start sharing your experiences and feelings, you’ll discover that you’re not alone. Embrace your faith. Join a support group. With online social networking, you don’t even have to leave home to connect with others in similar situations.
  • Seek professional counseling. Therapy can help you improve your coping skills during a chronic illness. A professional counselor is there to listen to you, objectively and without judgment.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Chronic illnesses can often be controlled or successfully managed through a healthy diet and regular exercise. Also, find ways to relax, try journaling, keep your weight in check, and quit unhealthy habits.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we understand illness isn’t just a physical experience. It’s an emotional one as well. We want to address every aspect of your well-being so you can fully heal. Many of our primary care physician offices offer on-site support from behavioral health professionals.

If you’re feeling depressed, the best thing you can do is to seek help sooner rather than later. Call your doctor and figure out what your next step is so that you can get your life back on track.

Find a physician you feel comfortable with, confident in, and who partners with you in your personal health goals. We have hundreds of board-certified physicians to choose from.

Are you at risk for depression? Take our free, online Depression Aware test.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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