Depression and Chronic Illness 1 2

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					Copyright (c) 2008 G Susan Rivers, LMFT

Even if we have avoided serious illness ourselves, we cannot escape its
reach into our circle of family and friends. Illness can bring us closer
through care giving and it can separate us through disability and death.

Emotional and social support are vital with all chronic illnesses. Along
with a new diagnosis or the burnout of a long ongoing illness, intense
feelings such as anger, fear, loneliness and depression can sneak their
way into our daily living.

Feeling overwhemled, fighting to cope with all the changes and the
reality of the illness can bring on despair, rage, even fear of losing
control over our life.

Strong emotions may intensify stress and constant stress can create an
emotional tornado that feels like spinning out of control. Our
connections with others who know us and care about us (family, friends,
church and community) are keys to helping us maintain a healthy emotional
balance. In fact, research validates that those who connect with others
live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives than those who create an
island of isolation. Two lengthy studies (San Francisco and Finland)
found that those who felt socially isolated were 200 to 300 percent more
likely to die of various causes, compared with those who defined
themselves as belonging to a community. Even with risky medical problems
such as high blood pressure, those who were connected to a church,
synagogue or community were less likely to die from heart disease.

Having emotional support and those "belonging" connections are great
assets to emotional balance. However, such support and level of
connection is not always available. In fact, family members who are
emotionally upset and emotionally guarded themselves are often difficult
to approach-and-their responses may seem unpredictable. Living with a
loved one with a chronic illness can be very stressful.

One of the greatest stressors is acknowledging our own worst fears about
the one who is suffering. The fear is that of abandonment. In fact, at
times, family members can be angry with the patient as an odd form of
distancing in order to guard against the impending pain or loss.

It takes courage for all involved to be able to discuss fears and
upsetting emotions. At times, too, good intentions can seem like
criticism and unsolicited advice. For the patient who is grieving the
loss of health and independence, facing mortality can feel like giving in
to death--that all hope is lost.

Others, with a spiritual faith to lean on may find truth about mortality
less threatening. There is no perfect way to navigate through the all the
grief and fear that all who are close feel. Depression can be on both
sides of the illness. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and just
sheer burnout can signal the need for outside help.

When we run out pretending room and move past denial, the situation can
feel overwhelming, physically as well as emotionally. Don't be afraid to
find help from a pastor, a chaplain or a trained therapist. There is


Susan, a Christian Marriage and Family Therapist for over 20 years, has a
private practice in Goodyear, AZ. For more info you can visit:

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