How to Manage Your Chronic Illness-Related Depression

Depression is one of the most common complications in people with chronic illness, occurring in up to one-third of chronically ill patients.

Older adults are particularly at risk for both chronic illness and depression due to isolation and loss of functional ability. Clinical depression is a real problem in seniors; 15 to 20 percent of older adults in the U.S. suffer from clinically significant depression. Unfortunately, family members and physicians often don't recognize the symptoms and seniors do not get the treatment they need.

Depression negatively affects patients' quality of life and depressed seniors are more likely to die from their illness or from depression-related suicide. Disabilities caused by illnesses may trigger the onset of depression, and depression may increase the risk of the disease progressing. Depression also makes it difficult for chronically ill individuals to take an active role managing their disease, such as adhering to modified diets or taking medication as prescribed. Some medications can even cause, or worsen, depression.

Children with chronic illnesses can suffer from depression as well. However, interestingly, physicians have found that the severity of a child's illness is not related to their likelihood of developing depression. There's even some evidence that chronic illness may have positive, rather than negative, effects on children.

A diagnosis of a serious illness can trigger depression in people of any age. For example, up to 25 percent of cancer patients suffer from depression, although it can be difficult to separate depression symptoms from cancer symptoms or side effects of cancer treatments.

Managing Depression with a Chronic Illness

It's understandable that being chronically ill can cause depression especially as patients learn to come to grips and live with their illness. If you or a loved one is chronically ill, you can take steps to reduce your chance of developing depression.

Persistent pain can cause or exacerbate depression. However, pain management is an integral part of treatment for cancer and other diseases. If you're experiencing pain, tell your physician right away; don't suffer unnecessarily.

The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (both are chronic diseases) says the mind can only think of one thing at a time, so they suggest learning to change your focus away from your illness to something more positive. They call this emotionally focused coping.

Try to do at least one pleasurable activity every day. Move—physical activity releases mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. Establish a support system and ask for help when you need it.


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