The diagnosis of a The diagnosis of a

Dealing with Depression in the Midst of Chronic Illness

Woman portraitThe diagnosis of a chronic illness can alter a person’s life in more ways than one. It can cause changes in physical abilities, nutrition, sleep habits, and routines. Chronic illness can add doctor appointments, new medications, and treatments. It might also involve pain and fatigue, which makes the burden even more cumbersome.

It should come as no surprise, then, that up to one-third of people with chronic illness experience symptoms of depression. The risk is even higher among those with a history of depression. Clearly, some depressive symptoms can look similar to those of the chronic illness itself, so it can be difficult to differentiate between the illness and the depression.

Signs of depression include but are not limited to:

Further studies show that there is a correlation between mental health and pain. When a person is more anxious or depressed, more intense pain is reported. This is the mind-body connection at work! Researchers at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine found that people with better mental health felt less pain, and people with compromised mental health felt more. So it seems that managing depressive symptoms could help improve physical health—and who doesn’t want to feel less pain?

If you’re feeling depressed, try these tips to improve your mental health:

  1. Get moving. Not only does exercise help keep stiff joints lubricated, it gets blood flowing to the brain, which can release endorphins and serotonin—“feel-good” chemicals. Engage in an activity that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back for more. Talk with your doctor about an exercise plan that may work for you.
  2. Talk about it. Find a psychotherapist, trusted friend, or clergyperson who is understanding and empathetic. Turning inward only stuffs sad feelings deeper, causing more emotional and physical pain. Talking about your depression can help release the negative energy and help you move toward acceptance.
  3. Challenge yourself. Find a new hobby or activity to enjoy. Learning a new skill can be distracting and fun, and it can build self-esteem and confidence, too.
  4. Be social. Although depression can make many people want to isolate, most people find that once they’re out with friends or family, they feel better. Surround yourself with supportive and accepting people and enjoy their company.
  5. Think positive thoughts. The mind-body connection shows us that if we feel depressed or anxious, the body feels more pain or fatigue. Changing negative thoughts to positive ones can decrease both physical and emotional pain.

Depression can be demoralizing and zap motivation. If the preceding steps don’t help, or if your depressive symptoms become more intense or frequent, talk to your doctor. It can also be helpful to work with a therapist who is knowledgeable about the effects of chronic illness on depression.


  1. Depression and Chronic Illness Fact Sheet. (2009, January 9). Retrieved from
  2. Nauert, Rick. “Arthritis Pain Depends on Mental Health.” PsychCentral. (2010, August 2). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea M. Risi, LPC, Health / Illness / Medical Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Mistie

    February 3rd, 2015 at 10:13 AM

    It’s almost as if you are fighting a two front war and you have to think about which needs to be treated first. I know that it can be done at the same time but I have to think that when someone is so depressed then they would have more will to fight that chronic illness when they are in a healthier state of mind.

  • andrew p

    February 4th, 2015 at 3:39 AM

    Well it can be very sad knowing that the end of your life is near, and this is a thought that those with chronic illnesses have to live with every day. It is no wonder that there are many who face this battle also have to deal with depression as well, so what I think would be good would be if their primary care physician could work in conjunction with mental health professionals to make sure that this person is being treated not just for the physical illness, but also has the tools to use when faced with other challenges as well.

  • Betsy

    February 4th, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    Please, if this is you, seek out help. This is not something that anyone should have to deal with on their own.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    February 4th, 2015 at 11:13 PM

    I appreciate all of your feedback! Coping with depression along with a chronic illness can definitely be a battle. Finding someone to talk to can help a you find ways to cope with depression in effective ways.

  • anthony

    February 5th, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    There could also be instances where the medication that someone has to take can contribute to their feelings of sadness. Of course they may actually be suffering from depression but there could also be some other things going on that are contributing to this mental health decline that they have experienced.

  • Chet

    February 8th, 2015 at 4:30 AM

    We all must remember that fighting a disease that is chronic or terminal is going to require one to be in a strong frame of mind. If they are not then there is only so much that the body alone can do.

  • Alan D.

    February 9th, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    It is the most difficult thing in the world, to watch a disease literally take a light out of someone’s eyes. I think that for the most part most people go into something like this vowing to fight, but day by day it takes just a little more out of them and before you can even understand what has happened, that sadness will consume them. For most people, once this has engulfed them it can feel like there is no way out.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    February 9th, 2015 at 1:10 PM

    As Anthony stated, depressive symptoms could be a side effect of other medications. If you suspect this is the case, be sure to talk with your prescribing doctor.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    February 9th, 2015 at 1:14 PM

    As Chet and Alan stated, depression (whether it’s medically related or not) can be all-consuming and mentally draining. Using Cognitive Behavioral skills can be an effective way to cope with depression. A knowledgeable therapist can help you learn new and helpful CBT skills to combat depression.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.