Chronic Illness and Depression

I don’t care who you are. Where you come from. Or where you’re headed. If you’re human (oh, and also NOT a psychopath), you have experienced some form of sadness at some point in your life. Perhaps a loved one passed away, you faced unfair prejudice or discrimination, or you lost a job. Another common cause of sadness is a personal ailment or injury.

It’s perfectly normal to feel “depressed” after facing negative experiences. Many people might cry a little or feel down for a few days before cheering up and moving forward with life again. However, not everyone is able to shake these negative emotions. If they persist for at least two weeks, it could signal something more serious such as depression.

The National Institute of Mental Health describes depression as:

A mood disorder that causes distressing symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.” 

Depression does not discriminate. It knows no color, creed,  race,  or religion. It can affect anyone at any age. One population especially vulnerable to this disorder is the chronically ill.  

When one feels like they have no control over their health, the things they used to take for granted quickly become the things they wholeheartedly yearn to do. Not being physically capable of even the simplest tasks wears down one’s strength and erodes their confidence. 

After suffering a concussion and being diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, there were many things I could no longer handle on my own. Things like riding in a vehicle without feeling dizzy and nauseous, tolerating fluorescent light without head pain, or reading street signs without seeing blurriness. I felt limited not only by a physical ailment, but also by the psychological ramifications of not being able to work, play, and live in the same way I could before the injury.

“A chronic illness can make it impossible to do the things you enjoy, and it can eat away at your self-confidence and a sense of hope in the future. No surprise, then,  that people with chronic illness often feel despair and sadness.” – WebMD, Chronic Illness and Depression

Like me, there are many people out there also suffering from post-concussion syndrome or other illnesses that know this reality all too well. One such person is Shelley, author of Chronic Mom, a blog dedicated to letting sick people know they are not alone. After suffering from Lyme Disease that ultimately left her with lifelong fibromyalgia, she began writing about living with a chronic illness.  She describes this uniquely painful experience of being brushed off by society as a result of a disability in her post, Why no one cares about chronic illness, still.

“Regrettably, most people don’t see chronic illness as a tragedy, they see it as a minor irritant that can be fixed by going to the doctor and taking the appropriate medication” – Shelley, Author of Chronic Mom

Sounds like a pretty lonely feeling, doesn’t it? The thing is, depression is more than just a feeling.  It’s more than just many feelings.  It’s a serious health disorder that affects 16.1 million Americans, according to statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That’s almost seven percent of the U.S. population!

So, now that you know just how widespread and detrimental this is, you’re probably wondering what you can do about it?

Well, that’s a great question.  And one that should be asked more often, “How can I help?” So simple, yet so effective. This is often the first and best thing you can do to show compassion and alleviate the burden of loneliness when someone is depressed.

Second, sometimes, the person you’re trying to help has withdrawn and may not be as receptive to your assistance as you might like. This is where you might need to do your own brainstorming. Often dealing with chronic illness and depression makes it difficult to cook healthy meals for oneself, so you could offer to bring a casserole over or go grocery shopping for them, for instance.

Third, withold judgement and offer help in ways that aren’t demeaning to the person’s intelligence. The most crushing part about battling long-term illness can be a loss of independence when it comes to day-to-day life. Being talked to like a sick child isn’t doing much for anyone except causing more frustration and isolation.

Finally, understanding is key. Although difficult, imagine what it would feel like to be disabled such that you’re no longer able to participate in your own life anymore.

Heather Deaton, contribtor, has some words of support for those that feel the sadness of battling chronic illness and feeling like you’re on the “sidelines” of life.

“It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself. It’s OK to feel like you have missed opportunities. However, relish in the fact that you are able to look at life from a perspective most will never have the opportunity to receive. ” – Heather Deaton 

If you suspect someone may be at risk:

  1. Do not leave the person alone.
  2. Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  3. Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  4. Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more tips and warning signs, click here.

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