Many people with these illnesses become depressed. In fact, depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It's estimated that up to one-third of people with a serious medical condition have symptoms of depression.
Researchers are becoming increasingly aware that depression runs in families -- sometimes across multiple generations. If Lynne Boschee were to draw her family tree of depression, for instance, it would branch across three generations to include her father and her brother and his two teen-aged children. On one limb would be Boschee herself, who had postpartum depression. Her 4-year-old son, Jack, doesn’t have the illness, but she worries that his excessive fears and panic attacks spell an anxiety...
It's not hard to see the cause and effect relationship between chronic illness and depression. Serious illness can cause tremendous life changes and limit your mobility and independence. A chronic illness can make it impossible to do the things you enjoy, and it can eat away at your self-confidence and a sense of hope in the future. No surprise, then, that people with chronic illness often feel despair and sadness. In some cases, the physical effects of the condition itself or the side effects of medication lead to depression, too.
What Chronic Conditions Trigger Depression?
Although any illness can trigger depressed feelings, the risk of chronic illness and depression gets higher with the severity of the illness and the level of life disruption it causes. The risk of depression is generally 10-25% for women and 5-12% for men. However, people with a chronic illness face a much higher risk -- between 25-33%. Risk is especially high in someone who has a history of depression.
Depression caused by chronic disease often makes the condition worse, especially if the illness causes pain and fatigue or it limits a person's ability to interact with others. Depression can intensify pain, as well as fatigue and sluggishness. The combination of chronic illness and depression might lead you to isolate yourself, which is likely to make the depression even worse.
Research on chronic illnesses and depression indicates that depression rates are high among patients with chronic conditions: