MS and Depression
Recent studies show that up to 20 percent of people in the U.S. will have depression throughout their lifetime. Some will display symptoms as they make their adjustment into adolescence. Others will begin having symptoms after the birth of their first child. Still, others will not experience depression until into their 60s, after they have suffered the loss of multiple friends.
No matter when it arrives, depression is a cunning and dangerous foe. Part of the danger is the wide range of symptoms and presentations possible with depression. Some sufferers will only face mild symptoms in the form of inconsistent sleep habits, weight loss and having less energy. People with severe forms of depression face an entirely different beast.
Severe depression can chronically distort your way of thinking, your self-worth and the value you place on living. At its worst, depression can trigger psychosis where you may see, hear and feel things that are not there. You may become delusional and suspicious of others.
The Link Between Multiple Sclerosis and Depression
When you have multiple sclerosis (MS), there is an increased cause for concern in regards to depression. While studies show 20 percent of all people will experience depression, studies show that people with MS are two and a half times more likely to have depression – meaning as many as half of all people with MS will meet criteria to receive a diagnosis of depression.
If you have MS, it may be time to beginning thinking in terms of when depression comes rather than if depression comes.
What Causes Depression?
To devise the best treatment for your symptoms, working to understand and conceptualize the source or sources of your depression is extremely helpful. MS serves to add many variables into the mix, but experts believe that there are several clearly identifiable sources of depression in people with MS. Some are unique to MS sufferers while others are possibilities to anyone.
Sources of depression include:
- Reaction – When people are faced with new stresses and new challenges, it changes the way they view themselves and the world around them. Learning that you have MS can trigger a strong negative reaction as you plan for children, finances, housing, transportation, and other necessities. Perhaps, your relationships and supports have become strained from your diagnosis. This can cause situational depression to develop.
- Physical damage – You know that MS attacks your brain by stripping away the myelin that your neurons need to communicate more effectively. If your MS is targeting areas of your brain responsible for emotional regulation, personality or decision-making, the outcome may be depression.
- Side effect – Always gain education when it comes to the medications that you are putting into your body. Interferon medications and corticosteroids have been linked to depression by past studies. Although there may not be clear evidence that medications cause depression, have an open conversation with your doctor to weigh the risks and rewards.
- Fatigue – MS wears you out. When your body is run down and tired, your brain is not functioning to its fullest potential. Fatigue will bring on other depressive symptoms like lack of energy, lack of motivation, problems sleeping and even feelings of guilt and shame.
Grief and Sadness
Grief and sadness deserve special consideration in this discussion. Sadness is a common, expected and natural feeling. It is not pathological. Being sad means that you are human, not that you are depressed. Certainly, sadness is an aspect of depression but is not enough alone to receive the depression diagnosis.
Grief, like sadness, is also a typical part of life. Grief will present at numerous times throughout your lifespan. It can present after a death or after you receive a serious medical diagnosis, like MS. It can be challenging for even the most seasoned mental health clinician to discern between normal grief and depression.
Grief, loss, and depression share many similar symptoms including low mood, hopelessness, anger, lack of motivation and issues with sleeping and eating. The risk is in treating grief as depression because many believe that grief should not be treated with medication. Ideally, you move through the process of grief and loss at your own pace until you reach acceptance. Medication can block your process.
Next page: Finding professional help for coping with MS and depression, and self-help tips for managing depression and MS.