No one feels their best when they are unwell, and this is no different for those with chronic illness. There is an ebb and flow to anything chronic – meaning there are good and bad days – but what happens when your bad days outweigh your good days?
In a Twitter poll I conducted this week asking fellow patients how IBD has impacted their mental health, 40% said they’ve experienced depression and it’s a struggle, while 60% said they’ve dealt with mental health issues from time to time. I found it telling that no one who responded to the poll said their mental health wasn’t impacted at all.
This week a guest post from 31-year-old Louise Helen Hunt from the United Kingdom. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2011 and has undergone four surgeries in the last three years. Louise opens up about her struggles with mental health, while living with IBD and offers incredible perspective and words of wisdom that everyone in our community should be mindful of. I’ll let her take it away…
I hit rock bottom six months into my IBD diagnosis. I struggled to find a treatment plan that worked. This involved months of being in and out of hospital. I tried very hard to be positive, but I was sinking. I refused help, I didn’t want to talk about it and I certainly didn’t want any more medication.
Fast forward to 2018, six years since those first depressive episodes and I was still feeling depressed. I’d gone through two major surgeries very close together, came out with a stoma, struggled with my body image and was starting a new job. It was a stressful time and I was not coping. I needed help.
There are lots of emotions experienced by those who live with IBD, both positive and negative. Depression and anxiety come up often on patient surveys from various sources, rates of depression are higher among IBD patients as compared to the general population.
The balancing act of IBD and Depression
Depression is a serious mood disorder that causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest. Depression can make you feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. It can also make dealing with daily tasks difficult. Tasks associated with managing a chronic illness may even feel insurmountable.
Depression often gets worse if it is not treated. IBD specialists are encouraged to assess not just the physical symptoms, but also the emotional symptoms. These can be:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, negativity
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Loss of appetite, weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
- Restlessness and irritability
Depression is treatable. It is important to seek out a counsellor who has experience in treating people who live with chronic illness. And while it can take some time for the symptoms of depression to go away, seeking treatment can help improve your mood, your quality of life, and your ability to cope with IBD.
This can be in the form of Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety, it works to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours which can contribute to depression – or medication management which can be used in addition to therapy.
How to handle depression when you’re chronically ill
- Talk to like-minded people – this could be online, at a support group or your friends.
- Keep a journal – getting your thoughts out of your head can be very taxing but ultimately therapeutic.
- Take your prescribed medication regularly.
- Remember there is no shame in needing or taking medication to cope with your symptoms.
- Be active – whether this is running or going to the gym, even something as simple as a regular walk can help: being outside and feeling grounded – literally – can lessen some of the symptoms of depression.
- If you are having a crisis, please seek medical attention. Be proactive and pick up the phone.
- Don’t expect to “snap out of it.” Instead, expect to feel a little better each day.
- Ask for and accept help from your family and friends.
- Know that positive thinking will eventually replace negative thinking as your depression responds to treatment.
Remember that feeling better takes time, and that your mood will likely improve gradually, not immediately.
Connect with Louise on social media:
Facebook: Louise Helen Hunt