Ever hear the term “mind-body connection”?
Today’s scientists are looking at how stress contributes to physical illness and what can be done to prevent it. Research indicates a link or correlation between chronic physical illness and clinical depression. A physician once commented “the human body does not stop at the neck.”
In fact, the relationship between the brain and other organs is a complex interaction at the cellular level. Some experts report people are not reactively depressed because they are physically ill, but that the same biological conditions that cause medical illness can cause changes in the brain that play a part in triggering depression.
Clinical depression is more than simply a low mood or temporary setback. The symptoms are serious, persistent and may include the following:
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions
- Ongoing sad, anxious or empty feelings
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Excessive fatigue
- Feeling hopeless, guilty or worthless
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Physical aches and pains that do not ease with treatment.
Forget the age-old question “which came first, the chicken or the egg”? Both debilitating illnesses need to be treated at the same time to restore the individual to optimal health. People who have clinical depression along with another medical illness tend to have more severe symptoms of both, more difficulty adapting to treatment and more medical costs. Those who receive adequate treatment for their depression often experience overall improvement in their medical condition, with improved ability to stick to their treatment plan and an improved quality of life.
Q: Ever since my husband’s heart attack, he is not his old self; I’m worried he is depressed.
A: According to the American Heart Association, after a heart attack, up to 33 percent of people experience major depressive disorder. Heart disease and depression often carry overlapping symptoms such as fatigue and difficulty sleeping; so it’s not surprising that sometimes symptoms of depression are thought to be due only to the heart disease. When sadness or anxiety become persistent, debilitating and interfere with the daily functions of life, then the process of rehabilitation and recovery after a heart attack may need to include psychological intervention and perhaps medication for depression. Discuss your concerns with your husband in a gentle, caring way and encourage him to speak to his physician or contact a professional counselor for a confidential assessment. Recovery from depression takes time but treatment is effective and life-changing.
Q: I suffer from chronic pain and my doctor suggested seeing a counselor; I just don’t see how this will help.
A: It sounds to me like your physician wants to provide you with a variety of tools and support to treat your condition and relieve your pain. Adding a psychological component to pain management is a smart choice. Physical pain is often associated with social isolation, fear of injury, low energy, irritability, confused thinking, sadness and insomnia. Brief counseling may help someone learn relaxation techniques for pain relief, time-based pacing of activities, strategies for improved sleep, and gain a different perspective on pain to lessen its negative impact on daily life. As you know, chronic pain comes with unwanted life changes which may have limited your ability to do the things you used to enjoy. If this is the case, meeting with a counselor will help you to develop strategies to manage day-to-day activities and recapture your life satisfaction.
Susanne Ringhausen is director of psychological services and EAP counseling for Saint Anthony’s Health Center. Susanne and her team of licensed professionals specialize in counseling for anxiety, depression, grief issues, drug alcohol abuse, marital-family conflict and psychological testing. For information, contact Psychological Services at 618-474-6240.