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Sadly Sick: Depression & Chronic Illness

In our Drop the Mask series we have discussed various aspects of acknowledging and managing the symptoms of depression. For many people suffering from chronic illness, managing the symptoms of depression is often further complicated. Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness and it is estimated that up to one-third of people with a serious medical condition will have symptoms of depression. A chronic illness is a condition that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely. Examples of chronic illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Many of chronic illnesses can be managed with medication and lifestyle (diet and exercise) changes; however the effort put into controlling them often results in episodes of depressed mood, decreased optimism, and low self-esteem.

As we enter the month of October and bring awareness to issues such a breast cancer, it is important to note that the more severe the illness, the greater the risk for the onset of depression. Depression caused by chronic disease often makes the chronic condition worse, especially if the illness causes pain, fatigue, or limits a person's ability to interact with others. It is important for those living with chronic illness to understand that the symptoms of depression can often mirror and/or be mistaken for the symptoms of their chronic illness.

Depression is treated in people suffering from chronic illness in much the same way it is treated in those without chronic illness. Early diagnosis is extremely important as is the need for your medical provider to work collaboratively with your mental health care provider. Here are some tips for living optimally with a chronic illness:

  1. Do not isolate yourself. Stay connected with your family and friends, ask your health care provider about support groups or community resources, and as much as is possible, keep doing the things you like to do.
  2. Learn as much as you can about your condition. Be an advocate for yourself in the treatment process. This will help boost confidence and increase feelings of independence and control.
  3. Talk with your doctor about pain management. If you suspect that your medication is bringing down your moods, talk to your doctor about making adjustments to your treatment plan.
  4. If you think you are depressed, do not wait to get help. Ask your medical provider for assistance in finding a therapist or counselor that you can trust.

If you believe yourself or a friend/family member could use some assistance in managing the emotional impact of a chronic illness on their lives, I encourage you to visit You will find information about services designed to help our clients with chronic illness learn and implement techniques designed to reduce the impact of Depression on their medical treatments and overall quality of life.

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