Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Recognizing and Treating Depression (2023)

Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Recognizing and Treating Depression (1)

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Chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes can increase your chances of having or developing mental illness.

It's common to feel sad or down after a heart attack, a cancer diagnosis, or when trying to cope with a chronic condition like pain. You may be reaching new limits in what you can do and feeling stressed or worried about the results of your treatment and the future. Adjusting to a new reality and dealing with the changes and ongoing treatment that comes with a diagnosis can be difficult. Favorite activities like hiking or gardening may be more difficult.

Temporary feelings of sadness are to be expected, but if these and other symptoms last for more than a few weeks, you may have depression. Depression affects your ability to carry out your daily life and enjoy family, friends, work, and leisure. The health effects of depression go beyond mood: depression is a serious medical condition with many symptoms, including physical ones. Some symptoms of depression are:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • Irritability, mild frustration, or restlessness
  • Feeling guilty, useless or defenseless
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities.
  • Decreased energy, tiredness, or feeling "slowed down."
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping, waking up early, or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Pain, headache, cramps, or digestive problems with no clear physical cause that do not go away even with treatment
  • Suicide attempt or thoughts of death or suicide

Remember that depression is treatable, even if you have another medical condition or condition. For more information, seeDepressionswebseite of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).. If you need help starting the conversation, check out the NIMHTips for talking to your doctor.

(Video) Recognizing Depression in Patients with Chronic Illness

People with other chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of depression.

The same factors that increase the risk of depression in healthy people also increase the risk in people with other medical conditions, especially if those conditions are chronic (long-lasting or persistent). These risk factors include a personal or family history of depression or family members who have died by suicide.

However, some risk factors for depression are directly related to another illness. Diseases like Parkinson's and stroke, for example, cause changes in the brain. In some cases, these changes can play a direct role in depression. Illness-related stress and anxiety can also trigger symptoms of depression.

Depression is common in people with chronic illnesses, such as:

  • Alzheimer disease
  • Autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis
  • Krebs
  • coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • hypothyroidism
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson disease
  • AVC

Some people may experience symptoms of depression after being diagnosed with a medical condition. These symptoms may lessen as the other condition adjusts to or is treated. Certain medications used to treat the condition can also trigger depression.

Research suggests that people who suffer from both depression and another medical condition tend to have more severe symptoms of both illnesses. They may have more difficulty adjusting to their health conditions and may have higher medical costs than those who do not have depression or a medical condition. Symptoms of depression can persist even when a person's physical health improves.

A collaborative approach to care that includes mental and physical health care can improve overall health. Research has shown that treating depression and chronic illness together can help people better cope with depression and chronic illness.

Children and adolescents with chronic diseases

children and youthwith chronic illnesses often face greater challenges than their healthy adolescent peers. Chronic illnesses can affect physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development and overwhelm parents and siblings. These limitations place children and adolescents at greater risk of developing mental illness than their healthy peers.

(Video) Depression & Anxiety MasterClass: How to Cope with Serious Illness | Dr Ramani x MedCircle

Children and young people with chronic illnesses are exposed to many stresses. Parents and health professionals should be on the lookout for signs of depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorders (a group of disorders that can occur when someone has difficulty coping with a stressful life event) in youth and their families.

People with depression are at increased risk of other disorders.

It may not be surprising that adults with a medical condition are more likely to experience depression. The reverse is also true: People of all ages with depression are at increased risk of developing certain physical illnesses.

For example, people with depression are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, pain, and Alzheimer's. Research also suggests that people with depression may be at increased risk of osteoporosis. The reasons are not yet clear. One factor in some of these illnesses is that many people with depression may have less access to good medical care. They may find it more difficult to take care of their health, such as seeking care, taking prescription drugs, eating right, and exercising.

Scientists are also investigating whether the physiological changes seen in depression might play a role in increasing the risk of physical illness. In people with depression, scientists have identified changes in the functioning of several different body systems that can affect physical health, including:

  • increased inflammation
  • Changes in the control of heart rate and blood circulation
  • stress hormone abnormalities
  • Metabolic changes observed in people at risk of diabetes

There is some evidence that these changes seen in depression may increase the risk of other medical conditions. It is also clear that depression has a negative impact on mental health and daily life.

Depression is treatable even if another illness is present.

Depressionit is a common complication of chronic disease, but it does not have to be a normal part of chronic disease. Effective treatment for depression is available and can help even if you have another illness or medical condition.

If you or a loved one think you may be suffering from depression, it's important to tell your doctor and explore treatment options. You should also tell your doctor about all your current treatments or medications for your chronic illness or depression (including prescription drugs and dietary supplements). Sharing information can help prevent problems with interactive medications. It also helps your doctor stay up to date on your general health and treatment issues.

(Video) Mental Health and Chronic Pain: Recognizing the Relationship

Recovery from depression takes time, but treatment can improve your quality of life, even if you have a medical condition.

Treating depression with medication, psychotherapy (also called "talk therapy"), or a combination of both, can also help improve the physical symptoms of a chronic illness or reduce the risk of future problems. Also, treating the chronic illness and managing the symptoms can help improve the symptoms of depression.

Depression affects everyone differently. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. It may take some trial and error to find the treatment that works best. You can learn more about the different types of treatment for depression, including talk therapy, medication, and brain stimulation therapies.NIMH depression website. visit aFood and Drug Administration (FDA) site.for the latest information on drug approvals, warnings, and patient information guides.

Participation in clinical investigations

Clinical trials are research studies that investigate new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. While people can benefit from participating in a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to generate new scientific knowledge so that it can better serve others in the future.

Researchers at NIMH and around the country are conducting many studies in patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to your doctor about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information visitNIMH Clinical Trials Website.

to find help

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Authority (SAMHSA) provides theBehavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, an online resource for locating mental health centers and programs in your state. For more resources, seeNIMH Mental Illness Help Site.

Talk to your doctor about your mental health

Good communication with your doctor or health professional can improve your care and help you make good health decisions. Read the NIMHTips for talking to your doctorto help you prepare and make the most of your visit. For more resources, including questions to ask your doctor, seeWebsite of the Health Research and Quality Agency.

(Video) Chronic Illness and Mental Health

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or thinking about harming yourself, callNational Suicide Prevention Hotlinetoll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also send an SMScrisis text line(HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline chat atNational Suicide Prevention HotlineWebsite.


This publication is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission from NIMH.NIMH quotevalued as a source. For more information on the use of NIMH publications, contact the NIMH Information Resource Center at 1-866-615-6464,, the seeGuidelines for Reprinting the NIMH.

For more information

Medline Plus(National Library of Medicine) (in Spanish) Spanish)

US Department of Health and Human Services
National Institute of Health
NIH Publication n.o 21-MH-8015

Revised 2021


What is the relationship between chronic illness and mental health? ›

Chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes may make you more likely to have or develop a mental health condition. It is common to feel sad or discouraged after having a heart attack, receiving a cancer diagnosis, or when trying to manage a chronic condition such as pain.

Is there a correlation between chronic illness and depression? ›

Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It's estimated that up to one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition have symptoms of depression. People who have chronic illnesses must adjust to both the illness and its treatment.

Does mental illness count as a chronic illness? ›

The stigma attached to mental illness means many people don't believe mental illness is chronic or even an illness at all. Mental illness is not the same as mental health and wellbeing: it is a chronic condition, no different from any other chronic health condition.

What exactly are mental disorders the answer to this question is important because? ›

What exactly are mental disorders? The answer to this question is important because it informs how researchers should go about trying to explain mental disorders, how the public responds to people who experience them, and how we should go about developing treatments for them.

Why do people with chronic illness get depression? ›

Many people feel sad or discouraged when faced with a chronic condition. The physical changes, anxiety and stress associated with the illness can trigger symptoms of depression. The risk of depression increases with the severity of the illness and the level of life disruption it causes.

What is the emotional impact of chronic illness on the individual? ›

Living with or experiencing a chronic illness can result in many adjustments and changes, such as loss of independence and not being able to do all the active things you used to do or usually enjoy. Anxiety and depression are common in people with chronic physical illness.

What are the psychological effects of chronic illness? ›

persistent sadness, anger, irritability, or excessive moodiness. changes in self esteem. concerns about physical appearance and body image issues. behavior problems.

What illnesses often coexist with depression? ›

Clinical depression has been linked to other mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. Together, these conditions affect millions of Americans.

Do people with chronic depression get better? ›

Taking an antidepressant or going to psychological counseling (psychotherapy) eases depression symptoms for most people. But with treatment-resistant depression, standard treatments aren't enough. They may not help much at all, or your symptoms may improve, only to keep coming back.

What mental illness makes you not take responsibility for your actions? ›

People with ASPD may break the law or cause physical or emotional harm to the people around them. They may disregard consequences or refuse to take responsibility for their actions. ASPD is one of many personality disorders. Personality disorders affect the way someone thinks or behaves.

Is being diagnosed with a chronic illness traumatic? ›

Chronic Illness as a Cause of Psychological Trauma

Similarly, medical diagnosis of illness or disease, such as cardiovascular issues, lung disease, cancer, or autoimmune diseases, can be traumatic and lead to PTSD.

Does chronic illness mean disability? ›

A chronic health condition can be a disability, but not all disabilities are chronic health concerns. Chronic health concerns and disabilities can be visible or invisible. You cannot know that someone has a disability or chronic health concern just by looking at them.

What are the 4 main problems that can occur that can cause mental disorders? ›

What causes mental health problems?
  • childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect.
  • social isolation or loneliness.
  • experiencing discrimination and stigma, including racism.
  • social disadvantage, poverty or debt.
  • bereavement (losing someone close to you)
  • severe or long-term stress.
  • having a long-term physical health condition.

What's the difference between mental health and mental illness? ›

While mental health is always there and may be positive or negative, mental illness affects a person's ability to function over a long period of time. Mental illness is not the same as feeling sad, unhappy, or stressed because of difficult situations.

What are 3 reasons why people with mental disorders don t get help? ›

  • Stigma. Society still attaches stigma to mental illness. ...
  • Lack of Awareness. Not everyone who has a mental illness is aware that they have this problem. ...
  • Lack of Support from Loved Ones. ...
  • Fear and Distrust. ...
  • Money.
Aug 21, 2018

What mental disorder is common among patients with chronic illness? ›

In addition, our meta-analysis revealed that the increased risk for anxiety and/or depression in people with chronic physical diseases was 310% (95% CI, 1.8–5.2).

Why can coping with a chronic illness be so difficult? ›

Stress can build and can shape your feelings about life. Long periods of stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, at times, depression. This can happen not only to you, but also to your family members. They're also influenced by the chronic health problems of a loved one.

What is a chronic form of depression called? ›

What is dysthymia? Dysthymia is a milder, but long-lasting form of depression. It's also called persistent depressive disorder. People with this condition may also have bouts of major depression at times.

What are three emotional problems that can be caused by chronic stress? ›

Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms like: Anxiety or irritability. Depression. Panic attacks.

How does caring for someone with chronic illness affect them? ›

Living with a chronic condition—and caring for a person with a chronic condition—can lead to physical and emotional stress. The symptoms of this stress may look similar in both the person dealing with the condition and the caregiver. The symptoms include: Anger, sometimes leading to physical violence.

How do you deal with emotionally chronic illness? ›

Start by trying one of these tips from our experts and people from the CreakyJoints and GHLF community who live with chronic illness.
  1. Make a mind map. ...
  2. Prioritize your concerns. ...
  3. Keep a feelings journal. ...
  4. Distract yourself. ...
  5. Meditate on the present. ...
  6. Let go of perfectionism. ...
  7. Decide what is a “want” and what is a “need” ...
  8. Say no.
Dec 15, 2021

What is the trauma of living with a chronic illness? ›

Symptoms of medically-induced PTSD or illness-induced PTSD, like flashbacks, intrusive memories, agitation, being hyper-aware of your surroundings, difficulty sleeping or changes in your mood, are similar to the PTSD symptoms that can result from other types of trauma such as military experience or sexual assault.

What are the emotional stages of chronic illness? ›

Patients may find themselves experiencing five broad stages of adjustment to a serious illness: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

How does chronic illness affect the brain? ›

People with chronic physical illnesses are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety or depression as their physically healthy counterparts — and for specific health conditions, the rate is even higher. Physically ill individuals may also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What personality disorder is associated with depression? ›

Depressive personality disorder is a personality disorder with depressive features, such as chronic sadness, low self-esteem, or pessimism. The depressive features are chronic and seem more like personality traits rather than depression that occurs in episodes.

What type of person is more prone to depression? ›

People who have gone through adverse life events (unemployment, bereavement, traumatic events) are more likely to develop depression.

What is the gold standard for depression? ›

Objective: The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale has been the gold standard for the assessment of depression for more than 40 years.

What is the relationship between health and illness between the mind and body? ›

Poor emotional health can weaken your body's immune system. This makes you more likely to get colds and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should.

What emotions are associated with chronic illness? ›

You may experience various stages of grief including denial, bargaining, anger, and sadness. You may feel you're on a roller coaster of emotion—accepting one day and angry the next. It may help to remind yourself that these feelings are normal, and will likely ease with time.

What does chronic illness mean mental? ›

A chronic illness is one that persists for a long period. Chronic illnesses include many major diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.

Are illnesses that affect the mind and reduces a person's ability to function? ›

A mental disorder is an illness that affects the mind and reduces a person's ability to function, to adjust to change, or to get along with others. What are Mental Disorders? Mental health experts see abnormal thoughts, feelings, or behaviors as signs, or symptoms,of a mental disorder.

How does illness affect the mind? ›

Some chronic physical conditions can cause high blood sugar levels and disrupt the circulation of blood, which can impact brain function. People living with chronic physical conditions often experience emotional stress and chronic pain, which are both associated with the development of depression and anxiety.

How do you enjoy life with chronic illness? ›

If I have a chronic illness, how can I make my life better?
  1. Eating a healthy diet.
  2. Getting as much physical activity as you can.
  3. Avoiding negative coping mechanisms like alcohol and substance abuse.
  4. Exploring stress-relief activities like meditation.
  5. Letting of obligations that you don't really need to do or want to do.
May 10, 2021

How can I be happy with chronic illness? ›

Ways to Stay Positive If You Have a Chronic Illness
  1. Remind yourself you're not alone. ...
  2. Get the support you need. ...
  3. Manage all the symptoms you can. ...
  4. Make little goals. ...
  5. Focus on quality of life: Manage physical activity, interpersonal relationships, and nutrition. ...
  6. Keep a gratitude journal. ...
  7. Let the illness make you stronger.

How does chronic illness affect self-esteem? ›

Living with a chronic medical condition is often accompanied by low self-esteem, a diminished sense of personal worth, and lower self-efficacy, a diminished sense of one's ability to influence behavioral outcomes.

Can emotional trauma cause chronic illness? ›

It is believed that prolonged emotional stress, as experienced by many trauma survivors, creates a number of physical changes in the body that lead to illness and disease.

What is an example of a chronic mental illness? ›

Chronic Mental Illness

The limitations caused by schizophrenia, severe mood disorders, and some personality disorders (such as schizotypal, schizoid, or borderline) may lead to chronically disabling symptoms.

What not to say to someone with chronic illness? ›

Validation is not: Saying “you'll be fine” or “at least you're young” or “it can't be that bad” or “but you don't look sick.” Validation is: Saying “I understand that *insert chronic illness* can be debilitating.


1. Depression Symptoms and Treatment Strategies | Evidence Based Interventions
(Doc Snipes)
2. Mental Health Matters: Chronic Disease and How To Support Your Mental Health
(Hospital for Special Surgery)
3. 5 High Functioning Depression Signs
(Practical Psychology)
4. Depression and Chronic Conditions: Why Does This Matter?
(Lake Superior Quality Innovation Network (Lake Superior QIN))
5. Recognizing & Treating Comorbid Conditions: ADHD, Anxiety, and Depression (w/ Olivardia, Ph.D.)
(ADDitude Magazine)
6. Psychiatric Disorders: Schizophrenia, Depression, Mania, and Anxiety
(Professor Dave Explains)


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