Battling Depression in Crohn’s Disease
There are various reasons why Crohn’s disease patients experience depression, and understanding the link to those feelings is the first step toward properly addressing the issue.
Living with Crohn’s disease means dealing with agitating symptoms such as abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, fever, reduced appetite, and unintentional weight loss. It can leave you feeling both physically and mentally exhausted. Over time, your mental health may be affected to an extent where you fall into a state of depression.
Although there may be various reasons as to why individuals with Crohn’s disease experience depression, understanding the link is the first step towards properly addressing the issue.
A hand-in-hand issue
Over 30% of individuals living with a chronic condition like Crohn’s disease experience symptoms of depression. These symptoms include depressed mood, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt, sleep changes, and suicidal thoughts.
“Individuals with Crohn’s disease are dealing with a chronic illness that is out of their control” said Dr. Frank Sileo, a psychologist. Seeing as how there is no cure for the disease, it can affect all aspects of everyday life, including family life, social life, work, academia, and more. Just knowing that there is no cure for Crohn’s disease may make you more vulnerable to feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and self-loathing. Prolonged periods of experiencing these feelings and viewing life in a pessimistic manner are all symptoms of depression.
Due to the fact that Crohn’s disease is so unpredictable, the physical challenges that are brought about by it are also hard to manage. “There is always the threat of symptoms flaring up” said Dr. Sileo. In fact, findings have surfaced, revealing that falling into a state of depression can actually trigger Crohn’s flare-ups. According to a 2016 study that followed over 2,100 participants, researchers observed that the patients who experienced severe symptoms of depression reported having more frequent and persistent diarrhea and abdominal pain. Additionally, these patients were more likely to be admitted to the hospital because of the condition.
Aside from the physical challenges, you may sometimes find yourself experiencing difficulties having to adjust to certain lifestyle changes. For instance, if your symptoms start to flare up, it may force you to cancel any plans that you may have made with family or friends. This, in turn, will likely lead you to spending more time by yourself. Moreover, you may feel guilty about burdening your loved ones, so you may choose to isolate yourself even more.
The same is true for your work life. Any symptoms that you experience may prevent you from working as quickly and productively as you once did. If your job performance begins to decline, it can put a damper on your mood, leading to feelings of self-loathing or low self-esteem.
With these types of uncertainties hovering over your head, it can be stressful when you are striving to maintain a sense of normalcy in your life.
Regaining a positive outlook
Depression can inflict damage on your immune system and because Crohn’s disease is an immune system disease, treatment is very important. The good news is that depression is a treatable condition, although it typically requires professional help.
If you are living with Crohn’s disease and you believe that you may be experiencing signs and symptoms of depression, ask yourself:
- Is it getting more and more difficult to take care of my condition?
- Am I isolating myself from my family and friends?
- Do I have low energy?
- Am I experiencing sleep disturbances?
- Am I experiencing persistent feelings of irritability, negativity, hopelessness or sadness?
- Has my mood or behavior changed in any negative way?
You are especially at risk for depression when your disease is active. That being said, here are a few ways to treat it to better manage your health:
- Talk to your family and/or friends – Your family and friends are the most important people in your life, so do not isolate yourself from them. Talk to them about your feelings and together, work to make sure that you have all the resources you need to manage your disease. Sometimes, even just informing them that you are going through a difficult period in your life can help to lift some of the pressure you are experiencing.
- Talk to a mental health counselor or a psychologist – Opening up about your feelings and experiences with a mental health professional can make a huge difference. While seeking help may seem terrifying and intimidating, mental health professionals serve to reassure you that you are not alone. They can help you set attainable goals for yourself and direct you towards more positive patterns of thinking.
- Do something positive for yourself – Consider doing something that you believe will make a positive impact on your overall wellbeing. For instance, a moderate exercise plan and meditation techniques are great ways to reduce anxiety and to boost your mood. Combined together, these practices are even stronger.
You may also have the desire to pursue a new hobby or to travel a place that you have always wanted to visit. Setting aside some time for yourself and for the things that you find enjoyable will remind you of the great joys in life.
- Take antidepressants – Following careful assessment and screening, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to stabilize your mood. Afterwards, he or she may want test you for depression and anxiety every now and then. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, do not be hesitant about asking for a screening test. Remember, a great deal can happen in between visits and a great deal can change about your mental health.
Most important, if you opt for antidepressants, make sure to discuss them with your gastroenterologist in order to avoid any unwanted side effects or complications with any of the prescribed medications you are taking for Crohn’s.
Depression brought about by a chronic condition often aggravates the condition. It can intensify pain and fatigue, as well as limit your ability to enjoy social interaction. This combination may lead you to isolate yourself, which in turn is likely to make the depression even worse. It is a vicious cycle.
Living with Crohn’s disease is a challenge and it is normal to feel sad or angry as you come to terms with your condition and its implications. However, if these feelings do not go away, you should seek help. Staying mentally healthy is crucial to managing your disease and to maintaining a better quality of life. Having said that, you should take necessary steps towards caring for your emotional wellbeing because it is just as important as your physical health.