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August 2022

Breaking the Link Between Chronic Illness and Depression

Living with a chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or Parkinson’s disease, requires a realistic but positive outlook. It’s natural to experience sadness, anger, or uncertainty about the future, but if these feelings persist and interfere with your daily functioning, depression may be responsible.

Understand the connection

Having a chronic illness makes it more likely that you’ll develop depression. Why? Anxiety and stress related to your illness can trigger symptoms of depression. Also, medications used to treat chronic illnesses can contribute to depression.

Not to mention, some risk factors for depression are directly linked to certain conditions. For example, Parkinson’s disease and stroke cause changes in the brain that may have a direct role in depression.

Know the signs

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Irritability, anxiety, or guilt

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or “empty”

  • Problems with concentration or remembering details

  • Exhaustion

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Overeating or not wanting to eat at all

  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Research indicates that depression may affect about 15% of people who have had a heart-related event, about 20% of people with cancer, and up to 66% of people who have had a stroke. Depression is also common among those with Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, and epilepsy.

Left untreated, depression can make it harder to care for your health. In turn, this may worsen your chronic illness. The sooner you recognize the symptoms of depression and seek help, the sooner you’ll start to feel better.

Find what works for you

Antidepressants can be effective, although you will need to work with your healthcare provider or mental health professional to find one that works for you and doesn’t interfere with other treatment regimens. Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” can also help you work through difficult situations and find new ways to cope.

Also consider these strategies:

  • Find a support group of people who share your condition.

  • Maintain a daily routine and try to remain involved in activities you enjoy.

  • Eat well, exercise, quit smoking, and limit alcohol intake. This may help reduce the negative effects of your chronic condition and lessen symptoms of depression.

Remember that depression isn’t permanent; between 80% and 90% of people eventually respond well to treatment. You can overcome depression and find fulfillment in life, regardless of your physical limitations.



Online Medical Reviewer: Kenneth Mukamal, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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