What Is the Link Between Depression and Chronic Illness?
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Depression and Chronic Illness: Understanding the Link

Published on Sep 22, 2023   -  4 min read


Depression and chronic illness are interconnected and affect each other. Chronic illness can trigger depression and vice versa. Read the article to know more.

Is Depression a Chronic Illness?

Depression can be considered a chronic illness. A chronic illness is one that lasts for a long time and often has relapsed or repeated episodes of acute symptoms. While some psychiatrists may refer to depression as a disease, condition, or syndrome, it exhibits the characteristics of a chronic illness by persisting over an extended duration and having the potential for relapses. Chronic illnesses or diseases require medical attention, restrict daily life, and last for at least one year.

Although depression is not specifically listed for common chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and cancer, it has many of the same symptoms and can be considered a chronic illness because it lasts longer, needs treatment, and affects how one lives one’s daily life.

On the other hand, having a chronic illness increases the likelihood of developing a mental illness. Specifically, Major depressive disorder (MDD) is prevalent among individuals with various chronic conditions such as Parkinson's disease, cancer, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Since depression is often co-occurring with other chronic medical conditions, this association provides further support for classifying depression as a chronic illness.

Chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure can often cause depression or make it worse. This happens for several reasons. When a person knows that he or she has been diagnosed with a chronic illness and that this disease is going to persist for a longer period of time, This can be emotionally draining and have an effect on the quality of life for that person. It can cause anxiety, uncertainty about the future, social isolation, and guilt about lifestyle choices. The physical side effects of the illness, such as functional decline, decreased physical activity, and fatigue, can also contribute to depression. The way a person copes with their illness, like emotional eating or difficulty sticking to treatment, can worsen their condition.

Not only does depression impair a person's mental health, but it also makes it more difficult for them to take care of themselves and adhere to the treatment they are receiving. It can make it harder to stay motivated, engage in healthy behaviors, and communicate effectively with healthcare providers, creating a cycle where chronic illness and depression reinforce each other.

Stress, problems sleeping, and inflammation have all been linked to depression and chronic illness. These conditions can be caused or exacerbated by any one or a combination of the factors listed above.

On the other hand, depression can worsen chronic illnesses by hindering self-care behaviors and treatment adherence. Depression can make people feel hopeless, have low confidence in their own abilities, and have less social support, which makes it hard for them to take care of themselves. It can also result in reduced physical activity, fatigue, and emotional coping mechanisms like emotional eating, which exacerbate chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Chronic illness can have a negative impact on a person's quality of life, and depression can make it more difficult for patients and their medical teams to communicate and establish trust with one another.

Chronic illness can negatively impact a person’s quality of life, and depression can make it difficult for patients and their medical teams to communicate and trust each other.

Depression and chronic diseases share some common features, such as stress response system activation and metabolic abnormalities, as well as changes in the circadian rhythm and inflammation.

What Are the Ways of Coping With Chronic Illness and Depression?

Individuals with chronic illnesses and their family members often overlook the signs of depression. They may consider feeling sad to be normal for someone dealing with a disease. Additionally, other medical conditions can mask the symptoms of depression. While the symptoms are addressed, the underlying depression often goes untreated. It is crucial to address both chronic illness and depression simultaneously when they coexist.

Depression is typically treated similarly for individuals with chronic illnesses as it is for those without. Early diagnosis and treatment can alleviate distress and reduce the risk of complications and suicide. Treatment for depression frequently has a positive impact on patients' overall health, quality of life, and adherence to long-term treatment plans.

The medical professional may need to alter or change the course of treatment if depressive symptoms are linked to a physical condition or drug side effects. When depression is a separate issue, it can be treated independently. Over 80 % of people with depression can be effectively treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Antidepressant medication usually takes effect within a few weeks. Collaborating closely with a doctor or psychiatrist can help identify the most suitable medication.

How to Prevent Depression While Living With a Chronic Illness?

Depression, disability, and chronic illness often form a vicious cycle. Chronic medical conditions can lead to episodes of depression, which can hinder successful management of the illness.

Living with a chronic illness poses challenges, and it is normal to experience grief and sadness while adjusting to the condition and its implications. However, if these feelings persist, or if there are difficulties with sleep or appetite, or a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, seeking assistance is crucial.

Tips to Prevent Depression:

  • Avoid isolating oneself and reach out to family and friends. If a strong support system is lacking, take steps to build one. Consult with a doctor or therapist regarding support groups and other community resources.

  • Seek knowledge about the condition as much as possible. Being well-informed empowers individuals to receive optimal treatment and maintain a sense of independence and control.

  • Ensure access to medical support from trusted professionals who can openly address ongoing questions and concerns.

  • If there is suspicion that medication is exacerbating the situation, discuss alternative treatment options with a doctor.

  • Address pain management with a healthcare provider.

  • Engage in activities that bring joy and maintain connections with others. Maintaining a sense of community and boosting self-confidence is beneficial.


Chronic illness and depression share a mutually influential relationship. Individuals with chronic illnesses frequently encounter mental health challenges, particularly depression. Conversely, depression also seems to contribute to the development of physical illnesses. Therefore, it is necessary to take all the measures necessary to keep stress at bay during the entire course of treatment for chronic illnesses, including depression.

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22 Sep 2023  -  4 min read




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