Crohn’s Disease and depression is more common than you think. Many people think of Crohn’s as being purely a physical condition, which exhibits painful symptoms and side effects that can be difficult to cope with and hard to understand unless you’re a sufferer yourself. What is little understood is how much the disease can affect your mental well-being and state of mind.
Crohn’s disease and its effect on mood
The symptoms and signs of the illness can have a devastating physical and mental impact. It is a condition which for many can leave a dent in the confidence, especially as they age, and lead to depression and low mood in older people if left unchecked and untreated. However, the symptoms of depression are also likely to show themselves in younger people suffering with the illness too, as they try and come to terms with battling a life-long condition that has no cure. Physically, the constant abdominal pain, upset stomach, cramping, ulcers and weight loss can rock the confidence to an all time low. Dealing with this on a daily basis can prove to be a tiring and fatiguing experience which can often lead to low mood and feelings of worthlessness. Many doctors treating patients diagnosed with Crohn’s disease report seeing depression go hand in hand with the illness itself.
Understanding depression and Crohn’s
There are a few different reasons why someone with Crohn’s might suffer from the symptoms of depression. They are as follows:
The daily physical needs can be hard to cope with: It is an illness that has a certain degree of unpredictability to it, therefore you may be fine for a few months then all of a sudden experience a flare from nowhere which can leave you feeling confused and uncertain, never quite knowing for sure whether you’re about to become ill or not. During a flare up, sufferers might feel unable to go out, or feel they have to be near a loo at all times, which can put stress on their confidence and their ability to leave the house during periods of remission ‘just in case’ they become ill.
It can be a hard condition to develop a personal life alongside: This can be a very isolating and lonely condition. Many people with the illness will start to withdraw from social occasions, seeing friends or doing anything that involves eating out or going to public places in case they are unwell, or because they do not want to be a burden to anyone. Sometimes there may be the need to cancel plans at the last minute if the sufferer becomes unwell, which leads to feelings of guilt and upset. There are also going to be times when the sufferer feels like they have to withdraw from their family and friends because they cannot cope. It can be difficult to maintain personal relationships due to fear and embarrassment.
Chronic symptoms can lead to low mood: When someone is in a flare up, the constant physical symptoms and pain can lead to a pessimistic outlook developing, often due to anxiety and tiredness. Many people see the fact that there is, at the current moment, no sure for the illness as something very distressing as it means they have to rely on managing and keeping symptoms under control rather than being able to have an operation or take medication to cure it and keep it totally at bay. If a flare up lasts a long time and the patient is constantly tired and worn down, severe depression can develop.
Treating Crohn’s Disease And Depression
Depression is something that is eminently treatable with the right help and support in place. If a depressive, low mood is tackled, then it can sometimes lead to an improvement in the symptoms of the Crohn’s disease itself, simply because a more positive attitude can help you see the wood for the trees and realize that both conditions can be managed successfully.
Seek help: Talk to someone. If at first the thought of talking to a doctor seems too much, speak to a trusted friend or loved one and tell them how you feel. Your doctor can help you to find someone, a therapist, psychologist or counsellor who can help provide you with some talking therapy and a means of expressing how you feel. Very often a trained professional can help you set some goals and find ways of managing low mood that can be done in simple, easy stages that don’t over-faze you.
Medication: Many people resist the thought of antidepressants, but for many they are a lifeline and can provide them with enough confidence to be able to start to go out and enjoy life more. It is important, however, that any antidepressant medication is reviewed thoroughly with a gastroenterologist before being taken; to make sure it is safe to take with any other medication you may have already been prescribed for your Crohn’s.
Gentle exercise and movement: Sometimes looking to factor in some gentle, non-taxing exercise and movement can be a great healing help for anyone suffering from depression and Crohn’s concurrently. Activities such as meditation and relaxation exercises can also be incredibly beneficial and help you to sleep better at night and also to keep anxiety attacks at bay. Exercise releases feel good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin from the brain, which can give a high and a feeling of energy, which can be lacking in someone who has a persistent low mood. Again, this is something that should be discussed with a doctor before being undertaken, to make sure that you would not be overexerting yourself, especially in times of flare up.
Written by: Lisa Lowe