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Illness and Depression
Posted: September 14, 2010
Last Updated: September 14, 2010


Clinical depression is a common mental illness, but even more common in those also suffering a serious medical illness; its called co-occurring depression. Many times co-occurring depression and its symptoms are ignored while a person deals with his or her serious physical illness.


Unfortunately, co-occurring depression symptoms are many times mistaken for manifestations of the physical illness or masked by the seriousness of the physical illness. Such illnesses as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes can overwhelm a person physically and emotionally, and they are left feeling listless, tired, and depressed. Doctors can treat the symptoms with drugs, but the underlying depression is many times left untreated.


According to the National Mental Health Association, the more severe the medical condition, the more likely that patient will experience clinical depression. People with depression experience greater distress, an increase in impaired functioning and less ability to follow medical regimens, thus hindering the treatment of any other medical conditions.


Nearly 74 percent of Americans who seek help for depression or symptoms of depression will go to a primary care physician rather than a mental health professional, according to research. Complicating matters further, the diagnosis of depression is missed 50 percent of the time in the primary care setting. So the NMHA recommends that people seeking help for depression inform their primary care physician, but make an appointment with a mental health care professional who is trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses.


Research presents a staggering picture of how mental health and physical health are so closely related. Depression occurs in 40 to 65 percent of patients who have experienced a heart attack and 20 percent of people with coronary heart disease, whom have not even suffered a heart attack. After a heart attack, patients with clinical depression have a three to four times greater chance of death within the next six months. People suffering from a stroke are 10 to 27 percent more likely to experience depression that can last up to a year after the stroke.


One in four people with cancer suffer from clinical depression, too. Depression is sometimes mistaken as a side effect of some treatments for cancer like corticosteroids or chemotherapy. Also, depressive symptoms can be mistakenly attributed to the cancer itself, which can also cause appetite and weight loss, insomnia and loss of energy.


Luckily, treatment offers a solution. First, recognize the symptoms of depression and don’t assume that these symptoms are from the physical disease the person is suffering from:

·         Weight loss

·         Sleep disturbances

·         Low energy levels

·         Apathy

·         Poor concentration and memory loss

·         Crying frequently

·         Angry frequently

Then seek a medical diagnosis from a trained mental health professional if these symptoms occur often or are affecting your daily life. Finally, and most importantly, begin treatment.


Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce discomfort and morbidity, and can also reduce the costs associated with misdiagnosis, and the risks and costs associated with suicide. People who get treatment for co-occurring depression often experience an improvement in their overall medical condition, better compliance with general medical care, and a better quality of life.


For more information on co-occurring depression call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.

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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.