Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depression and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

When you or someone close to you is diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, many challenges can ocurr beyond the physical symptoms. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical well-being. In gastroenterology practices around the country, we are encouraging patients and healthcare providers alike to not just assess physical symptoms, but emotional symptoms as well.

Rates of depression are higher among patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis compared to other diseases as well as the general population. Depression can make dealing with daily tasks difficult, and tasks associated with managing a chronic illness insurmountable. Additionally, one may experience symptoms of depression after being diagnosed with IBD or while experiencing disease complications, but those symptoms may lift as you adjust or begin to feel better physically. It can be normal to feel frustrated or sad while dealing with complexities of IBD. However, if you think that having IBD is causing depression, it is important not to ignore those feelings.

Depression is a serious mood disorder that causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest. It often gets worse if it is not treated. Recognizing signs of depression and knowing where to turn for help are important steps to manage it.

Definition of Depression

Most mental health experts agree that if you are experiencing five or more of these symptoms for a sustained period of longer than two weeks, you should seek an evaluation from a qualified professional.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, negativity
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Restlessness, irritability

Depression is treatable

If you do experience these symptoms, or the burdens of daily living in general become overwhelming, it is time to seek therapy. Sometimes the physical symptoms of IBD - gastric distress, fatigue and decreased energy - can also be symptoms of depression. It is important to seek out a counselor who has experience in treating people who suffer from chronic illness. If there are therapists in your area who have treated other people with IBD, so much the better. Effective treatment for depression is available and sharing your mood symptoms with your healthcare provider is just as important as discussing bowel movements, pain and fatigue.

While it can take time for depression to go away, seeking out appropriate treatment can help in improving mood, quality of life, and how you cope with IBD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety and is commonly used in medical settings. In this form of therapy, you will work with the therapist to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors which can contribute to depression.

Medication Management

In addition to seeking out mental health care with a professional, it may be necessary to discuss the introduction of an antidepressant to help stabilize your mood. Your gastroenterologist may feel comfortable prescribing this medication, but may also suggest consultation with a psychiatrist.

Suicidal Thoughts

Unfortunately, if depression becomes severe and untreated, one may have thoughts of suicide. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, do not hesitate to reach out for help by calling 911, going to the closest emergency room, or calling the suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE.

Learn more about depression and IBD by watching this webinar series featuring an ulcerative colitis patient, a health psychologist, and a gastroentrologist. This series was hosted by CCFA Partners.

Depression in IBD

Signs and symptoms of depression

CCFA Partners Study

Depression vs medication side effects

Self-care and coping strategies

Talking to your doctor

The first mental health visit

CCFA Partners and how to sign Up

Additional resources you may find helpful:

For further information, call Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization's resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.

About this resource

By: Crohn's & Colitis Foundation
Published: April 10, 2017

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