Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Chronic Illness and Mental Health | National Institute of Mental Health Publication

Depression is a real illness. Treatment can help you live to the fullest extent possible, even when you have another illness.

While pain causes sadness, that doesn’t mean you should be depressed all the time when you have chronic pain.  Pain leads to depression, but the depression can and should be treated separately, so it doesn’t add to the misery.

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

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.

People with other chronic medical conditions have a higher risk 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

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.

People with depression are at higher risk for other medical conditions.

It may have come as no surprise that people with a medical illness or condition are more likely to suffer from depression. The reverse is also true: the risk of developing some physical illnesses is higher in people with depression.

Ongoing research is also exploring whether physiological changes seen in depression may play a role in increasing the risk of physical illness. In people with depression, scientists have found changes in the way several different systems in the body function, all of which can have an impact on physical health:

  • Signs of increased inflammation
  • Changes in the control of heart rate and blood circulation
  • Abnormalities in stress hormones
  • Metabolic changes typical of those seen in people at risk for diabetes

Depression is treatable even when other illness is present.

Do not dismiss depression as a normal part of having a chronic illness. Effective treatment for depression is available and can help even if you have another medical illness or condition.

Recovery from depression takes time, but treatment can improve the quality of life even if you have a medical illness. Treatments for depression include:

 

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