How do other illnesses affect depression?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Certain illnesses, such as thyroid disease, migraines, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, are more common in people with bipolar disorder. These illnesses may be caused by side effects of the drugs used for treatment. Substance abuse is common, and may be an attempt by the person to lessen their symptoms by using alcohol or drugs. Other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, PTSD and ADHD, are more common in people with bipolar disorder, though whether one condition causes the other isn't fully understood.

People who have clinical depression also have higher rates of other mental and physical health problems. In teenagers and children, depression is commonly seen along with other problems, such as ADHD or anxiety disorder.

Serious illness such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer sends some into depression. First the medications required can cause hormonal changes that effect mood. If the disease prevents you from eating and exercising optimally, negative moods can descend as well. Most of all, however, the onset of serious illness can cause a level of stress, fear and sadness that affects even the most upbeat. Anti-depressant medication can help you face the challenges that lay ahead. Check with your doctor to make it safe to take the mood medications with your other medications.

Chronic illnesses are very often the cause of depression. The risk for depression is high in people diagnosed with chronic illness. To avoid adding another diagnosis to your chronic disease, you must focus on finding a good support group that does not focus on negative issues and work with physicians that do not scare you into getting depressed. Family and friend support are also key and a good therapist may be what the doctor ordered for you to work out the issues associated with the diagnosis of a chronic illness.

Depression occurs at a higher-than-normal rate in people who have had heart attacks, cancer, and strokes. It's more common in people with a variety of chronic physical problems, including heart disease, chronic pain, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), diabetes, and asthma. Also, people with sleep problems such as sleep apnea are more likely to have depression. Unfortunately, depression may be overlooked in these cases. This can lead to poor self-care, slower recovery, and unnecessary suffering.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Secondary depression occurs when a person has one or more illnesses and then is diagnosed with depression. The primary (first) illness may be a mental disorder or a chronic disease. That illness may lead to the depression. For instance, a person with cancer may be diagnosed with secondary depression that developed as a response to her cancer situation. 

Being diagnosed with any chronic illness can disrupt your life and lead to depression. Depression is more likely if pain, disability, or isolation occurs as a result of the chronic condition. Illnesses that often lead to depression include:

  • heart attack
  • heart disease (coronary artery disease)
  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Disorders co-occurring with depression may include alcohol and other drug abuse, chronic illnesses, and conduct disorders. For some of the neurological disorders, their pairing is more likely. It is critical that caregivers watch for signs of mental health problems in the overall well-being of their loved ones. There has been substantial research looking at poor health outcomes due to co-occurring depression and anxiety. In most cases, the severity of depression or anxiety of the person with the neurological disorder can be eased with medication and/or talk therapy.

Depression has often been referred to as a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Therefore, it is not a surprise that depression is the most common complication of almost all chronic or serious medical conditions. Research has shown that depression often causes changes that can worsen a medical condition and reduce the needed energy necessary to cope with changes and treatment schedules, creating a vicious cycle of worsening physical and emotional symptoms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.