Let's Address The Elephant in the Room-Depression and MS
Last updated: October 2022
I want to write about something that I feel is sadly, often swept under the rug and left to go unnoticed. It’s that giant elephant in the room that is often present, but most seem to look right past it. That something is depression. This is an issue I have dealt with the majority of my life. It is something that’s for some reason is often looked down upon and misconstrued. But, it’s something more people than we realize struggle with too. Depression is fairly common but still widely misunderstood and stigmatized. This stigma associated with depression can cause feelings of shame and embarrassment. But, we shouldn’t feel that way. I believe if less people were affected by the stigma associated with MS than more people would be open to talk about it and willing to get help.
Depression is more common than you think
Did you know that depression in its various forms is one of the most common symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis? Studies have even suggested that clinical depression (the most severe form) is more frequent in people with MS. It is also suggested that inflammation is a contributing factor to depression in conditions like MS. Nationalmssociety.org says that depression should be treated with the same diligence of any other MS symptom. It is important to note these other things they mentioned about depression as well:
- Depression can occur in any person with MS at any time in the course of the disease. People with MS who are more severely disabled are NOT necessarily more likely to be depressed.
- Depression does not indicate weakness of character and should not be considered something shameful that needs to be hidden.
- A person cannot control or prevent depression with willpower or determination.
Depression can happen at any time
I want to touch on each one of these points. The first being that depression can occur in any person with MS at any time-Depression, unfortunately just happens. It doesn’t matter if your symptoms are less severe like mine or more severe and cause disability. Like I said earlier, depression is something I have dealt with since before I was even diagnosed. I remember vividly the days of darkness and depression in my youth. It was like this black shadow that hung over my head, and no matter what I couldn’t shake it. It’s something that quietly works itself into our lives. Symptoms creep up slowly, and before you realize it, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel good. It seems to shut down feelings of hope and fills you with despair. The very thought that your life may continue on in this pit of hopelessness is overwhelming and disheartening to say the least. Many people who deal with depression will do whatever they can to escape this reality. Whether it’s self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, sleeping the day away or doing everything to avoid contact with the outside world, people take these chances hoping to find a way out. Some even resort to suicide, which is terribly frightening, but unfortunately it’s the hard truth. Depression isn’t an easy pill to swallow and that needs to be recognized.
It's not a weakness
The second point is extremely important. Depression does not at all indicate weakness of character. It is not something that you should be ashamed of and hide. Thankfully, depression is very treatable. It is something that needs to be recognized and addressed so that you can find the right help for you. Please, please talk to someone if you’re feeling depressed. My days with depression turned into years with depression. I felt hopeless and indeed embarrassed. I did not want others knowing that this darkness was within me, because I feared others would look down upon me or judge me. Don’t make the same mistake I did. It is not uncommon for people in the throes of MS to focus primarily on physical health and forget their emotional health and well-being. Learning how to cope with all aspects of MS, including your emotional health is huge. There are so many coping strategies out there that can help you rediscover the daily pleasures and wonderful things about life.
As much as we all can try, we cannot control or prevent depression by mere willpower and determination. Depression just happens, and it’s not always something you can help or even prevent. Like I mentioned in the last point, finding coping strategies to help break through the darkness is vital for your overall emotional well-being. Do whatever you have to do, whether it’s exercising, writing out your feelings, or reaching out to a support group-it’s important that you be proactive in managing your overall health. Personally, I find breathing exercises and activities such as yoga help me connect with my emotional self the best. It helps me learn to breathe through everything that life with MS throws me, good and bad. And, most importantly, reach out to someone. Depression is NOT a battle you can or want to face alone.
Depression can be treated
There are many treatments out there proven to help battle depression. While talking to someone about your depression can often help, sometimes a more aggressive form of treatment like psychotherapy and/or taking antidepressants are needed to sufficiently treat the condition and prevent you from spiraling into a deeper depression. I have been on antidepressants since I was diagnosed almost 13 years ago. While I didn’t like having to rely on medication to balance and regulate my emotions, I have found that it’s absolutely necessary in order for me to live a happy and normal life. Taking medication for a disease is not something looked down upon, so taking steps like asking your doctor about antidepressants or other forms of treatment shouldn’t be either.
I hope in writing this article that it can shed a light on the seriousness of depression, and maybe even diminish some of the stigma and negativity associated with it. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and there are SO many people out there ready to help! If you are currently suffering with depression, or know someone that is, please consider talking to your doctor about finding the best help for you!
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