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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.

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 20 percent of people with cancer, 33 percent of people who have had a heart attack, and 66 percent of people who have had a stroke.

The sooner you recognize the symptoms of depression and seek help, the more effective treatment will be. Left untreated, depression often leads to poor eating, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy habits that may worsen your chronic illness.

Find What Works for You

Antidepressant medications can be effective, although you will need to work with your doctor 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 percent of people eventually respond well to treatment. You can overcome depression and find fulfillment in life, regardless of your physical limitations.




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