An article on Comcast cited a report form The American Heart Association that both heart attack survivors and those in the hospital with heart problems have an increase in depression compared to the general population. They state that heart patients are 3 times more likely to suffer depression than the general population. Their recommendation is to screen heart patients for depression more often, even routinely.
The truth is that many or most illnesses are accompanied by some degree of depression at one time or another. The recommendation for screening is important and should be included in all follow-up exams no matter your diagnosis. Just as your weight, temperature and blood pressure are measured at each visit, it should be part of the protocol to screen for depression.
Diagnosing depression is important because left untreated many patients experience a decrease in their quality of life. They have increased levels of hopelessness and they begin to wonder why they even entered treatment. There are a lot of causes for depression so that’s why screening is important. Of course, once you’ve been screened, it’s up to you, the patient, to follow up with treatment. Some doctors who are not psychiatrists feel comfortable prescribing anti-depressants but not all. Meeting with a mental health professional may be necessary.
I’m also a strong proponent of support groups. It’s often beneficial to attend groups with those who have the same diagnosis. It makes it easier to offer education and resources when the group is illness specific. What these organizations or groups can do is reduce your feeling of isolation. It ends your “terminal uniqueness”, the feelings of despair rooted in the feeling that you’re the only one in the world suffering with this health challenge.
When we look at the mind-body connection the evidence is clear that depression is bad for the immune system. It lowers your immune function making treatment less effective and opens you up to more infections and complications. We have an epidemic of depression in our culture aside from those facing chronic or life-threatening illness, having the illness adds one more layer of complication.
There is hope for those suffering for depression. If your doctor isn’t screening for depression then one way of Surviving Strong is to bring your emotional distress into the exam room. Let your doctor know how you’re feeling. It’s okay to coach the doctor who isn’t asking about depression to include it in each and every follow-up exam, at least for you. You may be wondering how you would do that in a depressed mood. What we’re talking about is honesty. If you’re honest with your doctor it won’t take a lot of energy. It will take some courage because being honest is often difficult especially if you think you’ll be judged.
Believe it or not many doctors treating patients with illness are not surprised at all by the reports of depression. You might wonder if that’s the case, why don’t they ask about it. The answer is, doctors like to ask questions about things they have answers to. They may be able to replace four valves in your heart, but be unable to help mending a broken heart emotionally.
If you’ve dealt with depression since your diagnosis, what have you done? Who have you received support from? What would you like to have known before embarking on the journey out of depression?