Dealing with a chronic illness can sometimes lead to depression, which puts patients and their progress with chronic care management at risk. How can healthcare providers help when patients with chronic illness cope with depression as they battle with the mental impact of a physical disease?
When a patient has a chronic illness or condition, the knowledge that there will be no short-term treatment or solution can have a mental health impact.
Patients with chronic conditions such as cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes often live with pain, fatigue, and other debilitating symptoms every day, and these symptoms can often lead to depression. Dealing with the physical condition is hard enough for the patient, but add in the depressive symptoms of fatigue, helplessness, hopelessness, and difficulty functioning that may follow, and it can be difficult for the patient with chronic illness to cope with depression.
As a healthcare professional treating a patient with chronic illness, it can be difficult to know how to respond. You know the dangers faced by a patient who copes with depression. You know that depression, left untreated, will take its toll over time, and your patient may become even more fragile, both physically and mentally.
With depression in the mix, treatment plans may not work as expected. Lack of motivation may impact medication adherence and patient compliance. Physical ailments could get worse. But what can you do to help?
Understand Factors That Cause a Patient With Chronic Illness to Develop Depression
Having to cope with depression is often part of battling chronic disease. But sometimes the depression the patient faces isn’t just associated with the chronic illness or condition.
Chronic illness can disrupt life in a multitude of ways. It can cause financial difficulties, especially when treatments and medication are not fully covered by insurance. It can cause a person to drift away from family and friends, affecting relationships and causing isolation. Your patient may have unbearable pain and feel like no one understands what they’re going through or how bad they feel. Or, the person may feel as if they are a burden on their caretakers or family members.
Start a Conversation With Your Chronic Care Patient
It can be uncomfortable to approach a patient with chronic illness about their mental health status. You know that your support and encouragement play an important role in their recovery, yet you may be searching for the right words to say. After all, the patient is already struggling with physical symptoms of a chronic condition. Maybe they don’t even realize yet how much they’re struggling to cope with depression as well.
Look for the following signs:
- Has the patient lost enjoyment in activities they once enjoyed?
- Are they having trouble concentrating and sleeping?
- Do they frequently complain of aches or pains that are not related to their physical illness?
- Does the patient have a negative outlook on life?
- Have they given up hope regarding their physical illness?
If the answers to any of these questions are yes, then it’s time to engage the patient in a conversation about depression. Gently explain that you have noticed that they may feel overwhelmed by what they are going through. Ask them about their at-home support system. Explain that chronic illness and depression often go hand in hand, and let them known that they are not alone and you want to help.
Identify the Right Mental Health Resources for Your Patient
The next step is to identify what will help the patient resolve the issue and start treating the depression. If it’s not a course of treatment you can prescribe, is a mental health professional the appropriate resource for them? Do you think they will benefit from medication and/or counseling?
Have you established relationships that can help in times like these? For example, have you previously collaborated with someone experienced in treating patients with depression related to chronic illness? Perhaps you have someone in your referral network they could see? Do you have resources to coordinate the care of your patient, someone who can offer support and guide them as they move between appointments and treatment plans for the physical and mental care?
Keep in mind there are community mental health centers as well as peer support groups that may be able to provide the guidance and support that the patient needs. A trained mental health counselor may be able to help, and could provide support for the family of the patient as well.
Learn More About Helping Patients with Chronic Illness Cope With Depression
Approximately one-third of patients with a chronic illness have symptoms of depression. They may not even recognize it at first. They may think the symptoms they’re experiencing are related to their physical illness. This makes it especially important for healthcare professionals who treat the physical symptoms of disease to learn how to spot the mental health effects that often accompany it, so they can help their patients get the support and treatment they need.
If you’re a healthcare organization member or provider looking for ways to improve outcomes among your patients with chronic conditions through proactive healthcare support, CareSync offers a variety of ways for you to do so. Learn more about our care coordination services on our website by clicking here.