A comment on a discussion board about depression read, “Depression is a serious disease that fools the mind into believing you have no reason to live.” Another described depression as a dark jar that traps you in sadness and pain, but that cracks and lets you escape now and then. Still others say they just don’t feel like themselves. The causes and experiences of depression are vast. Many people with depression say they’ve “always been this way.” Others, however, experience life events that contribute to depression. And often, a health condition can be that trigger.
Making a distinction between mental and physical illness can be misleading. Our mental health affects our physical health. Similarly, our physical health impacts our minds and sense of wellbeing. Consider these correlations:
- Depression is three times more common in patients after a heart attack than in the general population, with 15 to 20 percent of heart attack victims qualifying for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
- More than 29 million adults suffer from diabetes. This group is twice as likely as others to suffer from depression.
- An estimated 9-16 percent of women experience postpartum depression.
“After a major health event, many people can become anxious, fearing that it could happen again, or feel depressed when their condition prevents them from engaging in the activities they once enjoyed,” said Mark Friedlander, M.D., chief medical officer for Aetna Behavioral Health. “The combination of depression and a health condition is not only common, but also potentially dangerous. People with depression can find it hard to make the lifestyle changes needed to manage their condition, complete rehabilitation, or participate fully in needed therapy. As a result, depression added to a physical health issue increases the risk of complications and poorer health outcomes.”
Effective treatments for depression may include medication prescribed by a doctor or talking with a trained therapist. Behavioral coaches can provide additional support to help people make necessary lifestyle changes or follow specific treatment plans. Some programs supported by Aetna offer therapy through video conferencing or telephonic counseling and have shown to be clinically effective and offer patients and professionals greater convenience. These programs are especially effective for patients who might forgo treatment because they cannot leave their homes or because of the stigma they may perceive with getting help for a behavioral health condition.
Depression associated with a health event may go away without professional help, but the chance is not worth taking. Depression also could intensify. Many options are available to help people cope with physical and emotional healing together. Friedlander noted that while there is no absolute “cure” for depression, “the most important thing is to seek help as early as possible so that mind and body are given an opportunity to heal.”