The link between depression and chronic illness
The association of depression and chronic medical illnesses is an important one; depression is more common in persons suffering from chronic illnesses than the general population. Sometimes a medical chronic illness will cause depression as a direct biological result, as in the case of anorexia, hypothyroidism and Parkinsons’s disease. At other times depression will be caused due to the psychological impact of coping with a chronic medical illness and the limitations imposed on fulfilling and rewarding activities.
Depression often left untreated
Depression and other associated disorders such as anxiety can often go untreated because the focus of treatment is merely on the chronic illness – it may be difficult for health professionals to see past the demands of a chronic illness. It can also be left untreated because many health professionals view depression as part and parcel of the process – they see nothing unusual with a patient who is depressed while undergoing a severe trial in their health. However this does not mean that the depression should go untreated.
The development of self awareness on the part of sufferers and pro-activity on the part of professionals is needed in the fight against depression and anxiety in those who suffer chronic health problems.
The following symptoms are common signs of depression in people with chronic illnesses:
Slowed thought processes
Changes to sleeping patterns
Loss of confidence
Many of these symptoms are also a direct biological consequence of illness or medication side effects. It is important to determine with a medical professional if the depression is a separate problem, or if it is a biological consequence, in which case changes to treatment or medication may help as a first course of action. If the depression is relating to the psychological difficulties of coping with the chronic illness and the impact it is having on ones lifestyle, it can be treated as a separate issue.
Seeking help for depression when needed is essential to improve quality of life during the course of a chronic illness – depression during illness is associated with:
increased number of days of restricted activity
increased number of days of missed work.
If depression is left untreated, the ability to cope with other chronic conditions can be severely affected. The following are all required in order to cope with and manage a chronic illness:
self confidence around decision making (for example with regard to treatment plans)
the ability to perform daily tasks (for example taking regular medication)
the ability to be proactive (finding support)
motivation (ability to eat a supportive diet to healing)
positivity – and many more.
Depression and anxiety can undermine all of the above. It is therefore essential that depression is dealt with as early as the symptoms appear, so as not to add to the difficulties that sufferers are already experiencing. It is helpful for health professionals, sufferers and their loved ones to be aware that experiencing anxiety and feelings of grief are a normal part of journeying through a chronic illness, and that reassurance and support is provided. Keeping communication open between sufferers and healthcare providers, and making health professionals aware when extra support is needed will go a long way to safeguarding against depression and other associated illnesses in those who are suffering from chronic illness.