Chronic Illness and Depression: An Unfortunate Truth For Many
Pain and illness have long been linked to an increased risk of depression. Long-term illness contributes to negative feelings such as helplessness and hopelessness, and in turn, depression contributes to pain and more suffering. According to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly one-third of people who suffer from a serious illness will also exhibit symptoms of depression.
More than just pain, serious illnesses impairs lifestyle and a person’s ability to enjoy activities and social events as they once did. They may have to undergo major dietary changes, take additional medication, and can be severely limited regarding independence and their ability to function in daily life – a privilege that healthy people may take for granted.
For these reasons, it’s no surprise that so many people with difficult and debilitating physical illnesses suffer from depression and sadness. These people often feel out of control of their bodies and minds, despondent, and apathetic.
Moreover, chronic illness and depression occurring in combination is all too common. The following conditions are highly associating with depression:
According to Medscape, depression is very common cancer patients and can have a profound affect on the person’s quality of life. Cancer patients often feel very ill and lethargic and may have to undergo drastic changes in appearance.
Being diagnosed with cancer for the first time is a big wake up call to many that our mortality is very real. Sadness and grief is a normal part of accepting a cancer diagnosis, but long-term depression is not conducive to recovery and may interfere with prescribed treatments.
Unfortunately, depression can easily go unnoticed in cancer patients because symptoms related to the disease, corresponding treatments, and depression may be hard to distinguish from each other.
According to studies, persons who suffer from diabetes are a heightened risk for depression that others. Diabetes is a very stressful condition to manage day in and day out, and as the condition, depression tends to increase.
This depression can result in reduced mental function, and patients become discouraged and less willing to follow diet restrictions and take medication.
It goes without saying that living long-term with fibromyalgia and the pain it produces increases the risk for depression. The pain and everyday fatigue can break down even the strongest of spirits.
Some believe that depression itself is often a direct byproduct of fibromyalgia as a condition (as many as 1 in 5 fibromyalgia patients also exhibit depression) and therefore integrative treatment for these co-occurring conditions is essential.
Because pain causes and depression and depression can exacerbate pain, these two conditions are unfortunately tightly linked. It is a cycle that can result in a destructive downward spiral.
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 75% of people with pain also report having depression. Conversely, the majority of depressed persons also report experiencing regular pain.
Depression Is Often Undiagnosed In Chronically Ill Patients
Many people with long-term illnesses assume that depression, sadness, and anger are normal components of being physically unhealthy. Overlapping symptoms complicate matters, and even people very close to patients often do not recognize the signs for what they are.
But depression is a mental illness and does not have to occur in response to a serious physical condition. We’ve all know people who struggle with chronic and life-threatening conditions that seem mostly if not entirely optimistic. This is evidence that feelings of despair need not be present in addition to poor health.
But there are many symptoms of depression that mimic symptoms of illness. These include sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, fatigue, and more.
When Substance Abuse Occurs
Depression increases the likelihood of substance abuse. Many people turn to alcohol or illicit drugs as an effort to self-medicate. This is particularly true of patients who are receiving opioid medications for pain.
Painkillers have a high potential for dependence, and depression may encourage patients to abuse their medication to get high and avoid feelings of despair.
Painkillers have a high potential for dependence, and depression may encourage patients to abuse their medication to get high and avoid feelings of despair. When a person experiences pain in combination with chronic illness and depression, it may be exceptionally difficult to avoid turning toward substances for comfort.
Treatment for Depression
People who suffer from chronic illness and depression need be treated for their mental and physical conditions concurrently. Relief from depression can decrease symptoms of pain and illness, increase quality of life, and increases the chance that the patient will follow prescribed treatments.
One of the main differences between treating depression in healthy people versus the chronically ill is that the physical condition, whether it is the cause of depression or not, can make mental illness worse if inadequately managed. Sometimes treatment for depression involves changes in medication to alleviate physical symptoms, or to reduce feelings of depression or anxiety.
According to the American Psychological AssociationAmerican Psychological Association, more than 4 in 5 people who suffer from depression can be effectively treated with medication and/or individual therapy. Substance abuse can be treated in conjunction with depression, often involving group therapy, 12-step programs, trigger recognization and relapse prevention.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology