5 mental health tips for chronic disease patients

According to the Cleveland Clinic, one-third of individuals living with a serious medical condition also have symptoms of depression.

Myupchar February 27, 2020 18:41:19 IST
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5 mental health tips for chronic disease patients

Whether you have diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, HIV/AIDS or autoimmune diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis, having a chronic disease can feel like life has dealt you a rather bad hand. How are you supposed to live your life to the fullest when you feel weak, fatigued and diseased for a large part of the time? 

5 mental health tips for chronic disease patients

Representational image. Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay.

These are thoughts that come up in the mind of every single person who lives with a chronic illness. These diseases last all your life and cannot be cured. The most you can do is manage the symptoms and live as long and well as you can. Not surprisingly, depression can seep in if you have been dealing or diagnosed with a chronic disease.

According to a study published in The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders in 2013, the life span of depressed patients is 25 to 30 years shorter than that of the general population - which is quite high for a problem that can be diagnosed and properly treated if primary care facilities are provided. Add the likelihood of having depression when you have a chronic disease to this mix, and primary care becomes even more important.

Symptoms of depression

According to the Cleveland Clinic, one-third of individuals living with a serious medical condition also have symptoms of depression. Having a chronic illness can also trigger something called clinically significant depression. The following are some common symptoms of this depression:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep at all
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of feelings or emotions
  • Lack of self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Fatigue, or loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Diagnosing depression in chronic disease patients can be very difficult because a lot of symptoms overlap for both, like fatigue, poor appetite, reduced concentration and lack of sleep. Patients and even their family members might overlook the specific symptoms of depression and engage more with the chronic illness itself, assuming that the depressive thoughts are just a byproduct of the other disease. This is clearly not the way to go.

Identifying depression in chronic illness patients

If you have a chronic illness, you should be aware of symptoms of depression and make sure that you are treated for both diseases at the same time. This is because treating one and not the other can lead to a vicious cycle. For example, if you have diabetes, have gained weight and are depressed, you will not have the motivation to regulate your diet, lose weight and treat diabetes properly. 

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), there are some chronic illnesses which make their patients more prone to depression:

  • Cancer
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

If you are suffering from any of these diseases, you should have a chat with your primary healthcare provider about the risk of depression, and also involve family and friends in the process.

How to treat depression

Early diagnosis and treatment of depression doesn’t just reduce the signs of depression. The Cleveland Clinic says that patients with a chronic illness can observe major improvements in their overall medical conditions if they get their depression treated. It can also improve their quality of life and make it easier for them to follow the recommended treatment plan for the chronic illness.

You can use the following tips to deal with depression:

  • Get help as soon as you start feeling depressed about the chronic illness affecting your appearance, mobility and regular life.
  • Be honest about your fears and depressive thoughts with the doctor who is treating your chronic illness. Your primary physician can guide you to mental healthcare professionals to treat both your issues at the same time.
  • Define your circle of emotional support, be it family, friends, your spouse or children. Ask these loved ones to help you maintain a healthy emotional balance, and accept all the positive advice they have to give you.
  • Be a protector of your own health. Accept all the physical effects of the chronic illness you’re suffering from. Accept the treatments you need to go through, think of them as the way you can improve your life and stick to them. Put your health first, no matter what situation you face.
  • Don’t measure your future with the same stick you used before getting diagnosed with a chronic illness. Your new reality is different from your past and needs a new, more focused yardstick. Instead of focusing on things you can’t do or eat any more, focus on the positive things that your future holds to build your confidence and self-esteem anew.

For more information, read our articles on Depression: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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