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What These Depression Symptoms Mean to Someone With Chronic Illness

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Depression and chronic illness are closely related. Living with a chronic illness increases the rate of getting depressed.

According to WebMD, it is estimated that up to one-third of people with a serious medical condition have symptoms of depression. Although I haven’t been in a depressed state, I’ve been close and I have had people living with sickle cell disorder like me message me that they feel depressed or feel constant sadness and hopelessness.

I understand how a chronic illness can cause tremendous changes in our lives and dash our hopes when we least expect, so when I hear someone who lives with sickle cell disorder say they are depressed, I don’t freak out. Depression isn’t too far away from someone with a chronic illness.

However, it is normal to feel sad or anger or frustration towards your illness sometimes. It is normal for your emotions to be heightened once in a while, so at times it can be hard to distinguish what is “normal.”

Depression is a serious mental health condition associated with the lowering of a person’s mood.

It takes a professional to determine whether you are experiencing depression or not, but here are some signs someone who’s depressed might show (according to Healthline):

  • Loss of interest

Depression can make you feel zero interest in things you love, activities you once looked forward to. You begin to feel less joy from doing activities.

In someone living with a chronic illness, it could mean losing interest in going for regular medical routine, taking your routine drugs. It can even mean loss of interest in sex. When you realize you no longer look forward to activities that make you happy and give you adrenaline, it might be a sign of depression. Get help. 

Sometimes pain can drive you “crazy” and make you say awful things: that’s not what I mean when I say suicidal thought. You’re in pain, it is understandable.

But when you are in little or no pain at all yet you feel like taking your own life and
think about it on a consistent basis, then you need to speak to someone. It might be a sign of depression.

  • Uncontrollable emotions

I recently found out that depression can cause mood swings. One minute it’s an outburst of anger, the next you’re crying uncontrollably without anything seemingly triggering the emotions.

Sometimes, it might not switch. It might be just constant anger or just constant pity.

  • Sleeping problems and fatigue

Depression has also been linked to insomnia and vice versa, because insomnia can also lead to depression.

When you are getting less sleep and are fatigued — although many chronic illnesses, like sickle cell disorder, come with chronic fatigue (anemia) — hence it can be difficult to determine which it is. That is another why you may need to get professional help.

  • Changes in appetite and weight

Depression can cause change in appetite and weight and it may differ for each person. Some people may experience an increase in appetite, while others won’t be hungry and will lose weight.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Spoonie Life Hacks group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Make life with chronic illness a little bit easier. Join the Spoonie Life Hacks group to get tips from other spoonies for tackling everyday tasks — and share your own hacks! Click to join.

There are different ways depression could manifest in people living with chronic illness. Let’s talk about them.

Ways depression could manifest in people living with a chronic illness:

  • New diagnosis

Many chronic illnesses like mine come with different complications. Sickle cell disorder for instance has numerous possible complications: there’s anemia, avascular necrosis, stroke, among others. Getting diagnosed with a complication might cause depression.

When I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, I thought it was over. I felt hopeless like my world was about to end. I was unknowingly falling into depression. It is
difficult to bear what comes with a new diagnosis, it comes with new symptoms
or new level of pain. You have to start trying to understand your body again and that might lead to a depressive state.

  • Isolation

Dealing with a chronic illness is not just about the chronic pain, it has a lot more to do with the mental health as well. Struggling with a health issue that many people do not understand can cause isolation, which is a common cause of depression.

Isolation and loneliness are something many people living with sickle cell and other
chronic illness can relate to, because we do not want to tell just anyone about our health. We don’t want to get judged or pitied.

Tips for dealing with isolation

If you find yourself isolated, don’t beat yourself up just keep trying to speak to people more. If that doesn’t seem like working, be like me, hide behind the screen. Find friends, support online. Join an online support group, there, you’ll find
people who can relate to your story.

  • Finances

Managing a chronic illness is certainly not easy or cheap. The financial expense of living with sickle cell disorder can be a cause of depression. The hospital bills and other bills do not stop, yet finding or keeping a job for a source of income is tough.

Some others think people living with sickle cell are not employable because of constant chronic pain. Some people living with sickle cell disorder cannot search for jobs because the disorder can be debilitating.

Tips to improve your finances

  • Have multiple source of income
  • Find jobs that can be done from anywhere
  • Create a passive income system

Here’s a post on the perfect jobs for people living with chronic illness.

Let’s talk about how to fight depression with chronic illness.

Five ways to fight depression with chronic illness:

1. Get support/reach out

A support system is very important when you live with a chronic illness. It could be just a friend or family member or even a support group.

Support groups helped me massively when I needed it. After being diagnosed, I felt so lonely and sad, but when I joined a support group, it helped me connect.

I realized that I was not alone; all those thoughts, feelings, pain, it was not just me. When you are not alone, it might reduce your chances of being depressed. So I suggest you join either an online or offline support group relating to your illness today. Joining a support group will also reduce getting lonely and isolated. You have people to talk to, and the best part, they can relate.

2. Get moving

Getting out of bed might feel like a daunting task for someone who is depressed, let alone exercising.

But exercising has been proven to be as effective as medication for relieving depression symptoms and also preventing a relapse.

It is beneficial to get at least 30 minutes exercise a day, and this can be spread throughout the day.

And it doesn’t have to be rigorous exercise, a light evening walk can get your mind busy and improve your mood.

3. Eat healthy

What we eat have a huge impact on us and how we feel. That is why it is important to watch what you eat.

Reduce your intake of foods that might affect your mood, such as alcohol, caffeine and high fat foods.

Then make sure to take lots of vitamin, don’t skip meals and minimize sugar.

4. Always find a way to motivate yourself

Just as Zig Ziglar has said, “motivation doesn’t last… that’s why we recommended it daily.”

Living with a chronic illness is tough, we all need that push to keep going. As someone with a chronic illness dealing with depression, you need it to motivate yourself often.

I love watching motivational videos and reading self-help books. Maybe the books and videos I watched helped me during the times I needed them.

The lives of people like Stephen Hawkings and Nick Vujicic inspire me to get up and go no matter the mood I’m in. I think you should check these people out.

5. Get professional help

None of the tips above beat getting a professional help. If you observe any symptoms of depression, it is important to talk to a health professional about it.


Fighting depression with chronic illness is not an easy ride, but it is possible to
recover or prevent it.

Depression is a serious medical condition that needs professional help and support; do not try to beat it yourself. Speak up, seek help and know that you’re not alone. Together we can beat chronic illness and live life to the fullest.

How do you deal with the depression that comes with living with a chronic illness? Share your best tips below.

Image via pexels

Originally published: January 6, 2020
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