Thomas Ramey Watson

DR. SANJAY GUPTA: When Illness Triggers Depression

For people diagnosed with a physical condition or coping with chronic illness, depression can be a common complication. According to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50 percent of asthma patients suffer from depressive symptoms, one in six people who have had a heart attack have major depression, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to be depressed.

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As John Lehrmann, MD, chairman of the psychiatry department at the Medical College of Wisconsin points out, pain associated with an illness can cause depression. “There’s no question that we understand pain is associated with increased risk of depression, and many chronic illnesses cause pain,” he said. However, even when a patient doesn’t have painful symptoms, “living with a chronic illness can affect your sense of who you are. It adds a level of stress to what you already have to live with each day.”

Depression often goes undiagnosed because it can share symptoms with the illness that triggered it, such as changes in sleeping and eating patterns or general fatigue. Fortunately, as Dr. Lehrmann noted, primary care practices are increasingly integrating mental health screening and treatment into their clinics.

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