A 2019 study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that patients afflicted by chronic physical and mental illnesses faced higher rates of hospitalization and visited emergency departments more frequently than those with only a chronic physical condition. This is problematic, as on average, patients with a chronic illness have a 25 to 33 per cent chance of becoming depressed. The risks are higher if the patient has dealt with depression in the past.
Chronic illnesses are afflictions that last for an extended period. While a healthy lifestyle, a good diet, and medication, can improve the condition, it cannot be cured. According to the Cleveland Clinic, chronic illnesses with the highest chance of accompanying depression are heart attacks, Parkinson’s Disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Many chronic illnesses leave individuals with limited mobility. Adjusting to an illness that limits one’s mobility and worrying about treatment can create a sense of hopelessness in patients, leading to decreased motivation to engage in activities. This is where the link between chronic illness and depression is established.
Depression can also cause chronic conditions to worsen. Studies have found that depression can cause a lowered glucose tolerance in diabetic patients, decreased amounts of physical activity, and an increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Additionally, physicians may overlook depression and only treat the chronic illness.
Naturally, both chronic and mental illnesses must be addressed during treatment. Failing to recognize the connection between these two types of illnesses can cause sluggish or halted recovery.
Over 80 per cent of depression cases can be treated using medicine, psychotherapy, or both. Medication used to treat depression include antidepressants, which can improve a patient’s mood by changing the way their brain uses chemicals. Antidepressants take effect after four to eight weeks and must be taken according to a physician’s instructions.
The second treatment used for depression is psychotherapy, which involves counselling an individual to help make behavioural changes. This can be accomplished through cognitive-behavioural therapy or interpersonal therapy.
Alongside the treatments, individuals must maintain a healthy lifestyle by incorporating a balanced diet and plenty of exercise in daily life.
Everyone is different and will respond to depression and chronic illnesses differently. There is no “one size fits all.” However, by recognizing the link between chronic and mental illnesses, doctors may find new perspectives in the treatment of such health conditions, leading to the improved overall well-being of patients.