Chronic illnesses present a host of issues for individuals, families, communities, and society. They require lengthy and costly treatment regimens and can be physically and emotionally draining. The financial burden a chronic illness can put on a social network can be exorbitant. But the emotional toll of living with a chronic illness can be even more significant. People who live with a chronic illness or disability have undoubtedly experienced drastic changes in their qualities of life. They may no longer be able to support themselves financially and may require a caregiver to assist with physical activities as well. Add to that the limited mobility or physical pain that can accompany chronic illness, and conditions are ripe for a rapid deterioration of mental well-being. Addressing the psychological problems that can result from being chronically ill is paramount. Not only does psychological health improve overall physical health, but positive mental health can also increase medication adherence and other treatments necessary to combat the chronic illness, thus prolonging and improving life.
Recently, some communities have developed ways to identify which chronically ill individuals also have mental health problems, specifically depression. However, it is unknown how accurate these assessments are. To explore this issue further, Christopher Burton of the Centre for Population Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh in the UK recently analyzed data from over 67,000 newly diagnosed cardiac and diabetic patients. The participants were evaluated for depression within the first four weeks of diagnoses in an effort to recognize those in need of mental health services.
After researching the data, Burton found that although the number of depression diagnoses increased, they did not do so dramatically. Also, only a small percentage of those receiving diagnoses for depression went on to get treatment. Untreated depression can result in poor mental and physical outcomes. Burton believes that perhaps receiving both diagnoses within one month minimizes the impact of the depression diagnosis, making the treatment of it less urgent when compared to the treatment of the chronic illness. Regardless, Burton believes that financial investments in these types of assessments may not be paying off in mental health outcomes. He said, “Given these findings we recommend careful consideration before further extension of screening for depression in patients with chronic illness.” Burton hopes that future work looks into more effective ways to identify and encourage treatment of depression in individuals with chronic illness.
Burton, C., C. Simpson, and N. Anderson. Diagnosis and treatment of depression following routine screening in patients with coronary heart disease or diabetes: A database cohort study. Psychological Medicine 43.3 (2013): 529-37. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 3 Feb. 2013.
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