Are Depression and Crohn's Disease Linked?

If you have Crohn's disease, taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. Evidence suggests poor mental health has negative effects on your Crohn's disease. The research isn't clear if Crohn's makes depression more likely or the other way around, but the two are linked.

If you have Crohn's, you also have the uncertainty and inconvenience of living with a chronic disease. You're especially at risk for depression when you're disease is active -- when the burden of Crohn's is the greatest.

You should be aware of these potential warning signs:

  • Is it getting harder to take care of your disease?
  • Are you isolating yourself from family and friends?
  • Do you have low energy?
  • Are feelings of hopelessness or negativity creeping in?
  • Do you have persistent feelings of sadness?
  • Do you have insomnia?
  • Is it hard to concentrate?
  • Are you restless or irritable?
  • Have you gained or lost weight?
  • Has your mood or behavior changed?

One of the challenges of Crohn's is that some of its symptoms are similar to those of depression. If you're starting to feel depressed, get help quickly from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

You can also talk to family or friends about your feelings and work with them to make sure you have all the resources you need in place to manage your Crohn's. Sometimes it helps just to tell them you're going through a difficult time.

You can also connect to others with Crohn's through a support group. Some meet in person. Others meet online. Some organizations have a buddy system, so you can stay connected on social media and get the support you need, especially when you have a flare-up.

Your doctor may suggest you take an antidepressant to stabilize your mood. From time to time, he may want to test you for depression and anxiety. If you're feeling depressed or anxious, ask for a screening test. If you haven't had one before, a baseline exam is a good place to start. The typical person with Crohn's sees their gastroenterologist only 3 hours a year. A lot can happen between visits, and a lot can change about your mental health.

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Behavioral therapy can help your emotional health, even if you don't think you're depressed. It's especially useful if:

  • Stress makes your symptoms worse.
  • You have trouble relaxing.
  • You spend a lot of time worrying about the impact of your symptoms.
  • You struggle to understand Crohn's or your treatment plan.
  • You don't think you have enough of a support system.
  • You're anxious or depressed.

Behavioral therapy options include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy: Working with a psychologist to change your thought patterns.

Gut-directed hypnotherapy: Using suggestion, imagery, and relaxation during hypnosis to teach you about your digestive system.

Stress management: Talk therapy and breathing exercises can help keep your stress manageable.

Keep in mind that even when you manage your depression, you'll still need to take medications for your Crohn's.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 13, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Megan Riehl, PsyD, University of Michigan Gastroenterology.

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation: “Signs and Symptoms of Depression.”

Michigan Medicine: “GI Behavioral Therapy.”

Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics: “The impact of major depressive disorder on the short- and long-term outcome of Crohn's disease treatment with infliximab.”

White Rose Research Online: “Effect of psychological therapy on disease activity, psychological comorbidity, and quality of life in inflammatory bowel disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

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