Please Note: I am not a doctor. This information is based on my own research and personal experiences. If you are struggling, please see your doctor immediately.
Something I’ve never really talked about here on the blog is depression and suicidal thoughts/actions as a result of chronic physical diseases and conditions.
Statistics show that most suicides are the result of untreated mental illness, but in truth those who seek suicide do not actually want to die, rather they just want to end their pain. Mental pain can of course be the cause, but physical pain and stress is just as painful. I know a few friends with chronic physical illness who also suffer from depression and anxiety. A big shocking physical health diagnosis (like Cancer or Heart Failure) or treatments (such as chemotherapy or heart surgery) can cause post traumatic stress. And it so important to take these issues seriously because they are real.
Medical Conditions and Pain
Patients with serious medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, lupus, and traumatic brain injury may be at increased risk for suicide. This is primarily due to psychological states such as hopelessness, helplessness, and desire for control over death. Chronic pain, insomnia and adverse effects of medications have also been cited as contributing factors.
People who have chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke often also have depression. Depression also often occurs with chronic pain.
- The everyday stress of dealing with a chronic disease causes depression or makes it worse.
- People who have depression often find it hard to take care of their health, which can lead to health problems.1
- People who have depression tend to eat poorly, get less exercise and smoke.
- Some chronic diseases change your body chemistry and help cause depression.Cushing’s syndrome and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) are examples of this.
If you treat depression, it can improve your health and quality of life. Also, ask your doctors about the medicines you’re taking. Some medicines may cause depression and medicines you take for depression may make other health problems worse.
A good friend of mine has a long-term chronic disease. She also suffers from and is treated for depression. In addition, there are certain medications that she takes for her illness that are actually known to cause mental health issues, and at times during her treatment for her physical health, her medication for mental health must be varied when she is in crisis. Its something she must be vigilant about, and that vigilance can certainly cause a lot of stress. But since she and her doctors treat these mental health issues seriously, she is one of the most positive people I know about her life and her disease. I’m so proud of her strength and determination in making her life better. I know its not easy, but its worth it. Her life matters. Each of our lives matter.
Another note is for the caregivers of those with chronic physical diseases or conditions. Its not easy watching a loved one who is physically in pain and depressed. Many caregivers may not understand depression themselves, because they have never experienced it. So its so important to be open with each other, communicate regularly and never stop.
It may be up to the caregiver to seek out mental health treatment for their loved one. Caregivers are probably used to supporting loved ones’ physical health treatment. But mental health is different. There is a lot of stigma and shame involved with mental disorders that don’t necessarily exist with the physical. So your loved one may not reach out as easily. They may try to hide that aspect of their pain. They may not have the strength to look for a psychiatrist or therapist. So it may be up to you. That’s of course stressful for caregivers, but if you love that person, you gotta do what you gotta do.
I hope this has been helpful, and if you suffer from depression and/or suicidal thoughts because of your physical condition, you’re definitely not alone. It is a very normal response to the stress and pain. But you can find help, seek treatment and find strength again.