Chronic Illness And Depression
Chronic illness and depression unfortunately often go hand in hand. It’s estimated that up to one-third of people with a serious chronic illness also have symptoms of depression.
In some ways, this isn’t a surprise. Because severe chronic illnesses can reduce your level of independence, it can be hard to not get discouraged or even despondent. The social isolation that can occur as a result can often make depressive symptoms even worse, and the side effects of some medications used to manage chronic illness can even include depression.
Signs Of Depression
If you start to notice any of the following symptoms, these could be signs that you’re experiencing depression. Talk with your doctor about how you’re feeling and discuss a potential treatment plan to address these issues.
- Fatigue symptoms unrelated to your chronic illness
- Significant increase or decrease in appetite, or a significant increase or decrease in weight gain that’s unrelated to your illness
- Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Increased social isolation and withdrawing from friends
- Feelings of inadequacy or guilt
- Consistent insomnia or finding it difficult to stop sleeping
- Difficult concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
The Importance Of Psychotherapy In Managing Depression
Many people don’t feel comfortable discussing their depression with family and friends, or feel as though they’d be a burden by doing so. Weekly sessions with a psychotherapist can be helpful in processing difficult feelings, understanding the root cause of them and altering negative patterns of thinking or behavior. If your medication is contributing to your depression, they can also work with you to explore other possible options.
“When we treat high blood pressure, the blood pressure may start at 150 over 95, and then it’s monitored over time until it gets to a level that’s being aimed for,” said Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. “If somebody has depression, their symptoms need to be monitored until it gets to a level that the depression is lifted.”
The overwhelming majority of insurance plans offer some form of in-network coverage of psychotherapy and may even offer out-of-network coverage. Contact your insurance provider to find out what your plan covers and get a list of licensed therapists in your area.
Medication In Treating Depression
Anti-depressant drugs improve symptoms of depression by boosting the level of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can help regulate the circuits in the brain which affect emotion. Some of the most common selective setotonin reputake inhibitors (SSRI’s) inclue Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro and Paxil.
However, these drugs can also spark significant side effects including dizziness, headaches, nausea and insomnia. Some patients also report having a low sex drive or other sexual performance issues while on these medications. Talk with your doctor about possible options for treatment and be sure to report any negative side effects you might experience.
Other Ways To Manage Depression
Although some people truly do need the help of a therapist and anti-depressants to help manage their depression, there are also ways we can take control to manage some of these symptoms:
Exercise: Even a short walk around the block can help boost endorphins in the body, known as the chemicals that regulate your mood, and provide a much-needed boost.
Avoid isolating: It’s common for people with depression to withdraw from social situations and remain lost in their thoughts. Getting out of the house and interacting with others forces you to focus on something else and will likely help you feel better.
Volunteering: Being of service to others can provide a sense of self-worth and importance, in addition to forcing you to not get lost in your own thoughts. Find a local charity or community project that you feel passionate about and find out how you can help.
Educate yourself: Learning as much as you can about depression will enable you to quickly identify symptoms and get the best treatment available.
If you ever experience suicidal thoughts or actions, don’t wait to get help. An emergency room doctor will offer temporary assistance and point you to local resources to receive further support.