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Coping with long-term (chronic) illnesses and depression

Living with the symptoms of a long-term (chronic) condition such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney diseaselupus, and multiple sclerosis can affect a person's mental health.

Serious illness can cause tremendous changes in lifestyle, and limit an individual’s mobility and independence. Long-term illness may make it impossible to pursue the activities one enjoys, and can undermine self-confidence and a sense of hope in the future.

Depression can also be a side effect of some medications.

Long-term illness and depression

Although any illness can trigger depressed feelings, the risk of long-term illness and depression increases with the severity of the illness and the level of life disruption it causes. The mental health charity Mind says statistics suggest more women than men become depressed, but men are less likely to admit they are depressed or talk about it.

Depression caused by long-term disease often aggravates the condition, especially if the illness causes pain and fatigue, or limits a person’s ability to interact with others. Depression can intensify pain, as well as fatigue and sluggishness. The combination of long-term illness and depression can also cause people to isolate themselves, which is likely to exacerbate the depression.

Research on long-term illnesses and depression indicates that depression rates may be higher among people with long-term conditions such as:

Long-term illness and depression symptoms

In people with long-term illnesses and depression, patients themselves and their family members often overlook the symptoms of depression, assuming that feeling sad is normal for someone struggling with disease. Symptoms of depression are also frequently masked by other medical problems, resulting in treatment for the symptoms - but not the underlying depression. When both long-term illnesses and depression are present, it is extremely important to treat both at the same time.

Long-term illness and depression treatment options

Treatment of depression in chronically ill patients is similar to treatment of depression in other people. Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce distress, as well as the risk of complications and suicide for those with long-term illness and depression. In many patients, depression treatment can produce an improvement in the patient’s overall medical condition, a better quality of life, and a greater likelihood of sticking to a long-term treatment plan.

If the depressive symptoms are related to the physical illness or the side effects of medication, treatment may need to be adjusted or changed. When the depression is a separate problem, it can be treated on its own. More than 80% of people with depression can be treated successfully with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Antidepressant drugs usually begin to have a positive effect within a matter of weeks. It is important to work closely with a doctor or psychiatrist to find the most effective medication.

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