The World Health Organization defines health as being “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Mental health is intertwined in all aspects of our lives, but this is especially true for those with chronic illnesses.
The National Institute of Mental Health has identified three key trends in the relationship between depression and chronic disease. It is important to note that chronic disease will not always lead to depression, and vice versa. However, there is a statistical significance between the two.
- People with chronic (physical) medical conditions have a higher risk of depression.
Depression is common among people with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, psoriasis and arthritis.
Sometimes a person becomes depressed after a diagnosis and the depression lessens after treatment of their physical ailment. However, depression sometimes persists. According to research, those with depression and another medical illness often have more severe symptoms of both illnesses.
- People with depression are at a higher risk of developing other medical conditions.
Those with chronic depression are statistically more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. The reasons behind this connection are not clear, but it could be that those with depression have a harder time exercising and eating well. Additionally, people with depression are 2x more likely to smoke cigarettes, which has negative effects on the body.
Physiological symptoms of depression might also cause this connection. Ongoing research is exploring increased inflammation, changes in heart rate and blood circulation, abnormalities in stress hormones and metabolic changes. Another factor is that those with depression have worse self-perceived health than those without depression.
- Depression is treatable even when another illness is present.
Just because a person is suffering from a chronic illness doesn’t mean they should neglect the symptoms of depression. Managing both chronic illness and mental illness can improve a person’s quality of life.
The course of treatment depends on the patient, but cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medications are the two most common treatments for depression.
If you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of depression, it is pertinent that you see a doctor. Ignoring the symptoms can hurt you in both the short-term and the long-term. Because all aspects of health are intertwined, the key to a healthy life is taking your mental health as seriously as your physical health.