Depression is a medical illness. More than just being “down in the dumps” or feeling blue.

Depression affects how you feel, think and behave.

Depression is characterized by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, inadequacy, sadness and a loss of interest in daily life.

It is easy to overlook symptoms of depression in someone with chronic illness, because it is natural and common to feel sad when coping with a lifelong illness. Common symptoms of depression may include:

  • Feeling sad or unhappy
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia or too much sleep
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking and movement
  • Fatigue, tiredness, loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless, guilty and blaming yourself
  • Thoughts of death, dying and suicide
  • Unexplained crying
  • Unexplained physical problems, including pain or headache

Depression and Kidney Disease

Many people feel overwhelmed and depressed when they first find out about their kidney disease and the need to start dialysis. People often feel like their entire lives have been turned upside down, and this can significantly impact psychological health. The thought of needing dialysis indefinitely, or until a kidney transplant is received, can also leave people feeling depressed. Usually, people adjust and they start to feel better over time, and the initial feelings of depression decrease as patients become more stable and understanding of their kidney disease. It is important to realize that depression can sometimes be a more serious concern that doesn’t go away over time, and it may need to be treated further. For more information on coping with depression, click here.

Depression and chronic illness often coexist in a vicious cycle.

Your chronic condition can bring on a bout of depression, which in turn impacts the treatment of your illness. The risk of clinical depression is often higher in individuals with serious medical illnesses and is the primary mental health concern of patients with kidney failure. The prevalence of depressive disorders in hemodialysis patients is estimated between 20-30%.

Depression can affect patients with kidney disease in several ways. It can lead to changes in the immune system and reactions to stress, which can have a negative impact on your general health. Depression also affects appetite and may lead patients to ignore the dietary restrictions required by kidney disease and dialysis. In addition, the physical and emotional symptoms of depression may cause behavior changes in such a way that patients may no longer follow their treatment plan or schedule. Treating the symptoms of depression will help improve overall health and make sure patients stay in control of their health and their chronic condition.

Depression is treatable.

So it is important to talk with your doctor or social worker if you are feeling any of the symptoms of depression. Depression can be treated with antidepressant medications, supportive counseling from your social worker or other mental health professionals. It is also important to talk with family and friends so that they can have a better understanding of what you are going through, so that they can try to help you overcome your feelings of depression.

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