Co-morbid depression

Co-morbid depression refers to depression that occurs in the presence of another illness.

People with chronic (long-term) physical illnesses, especially those with conditions that produce a lot of pain, restriction of activity or a poor outlook are all prone to developing depression on top of their existing illness.

Physical illnesses that are commonly associated with co-morbid depression include:

  • cancer;
  • heart disease;
  • stroke;
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
  • diabetes;
  • epilepsy; and
  • Parkinson’s disease.

Depression also commonly affects people with other mental health problems, such as anxiety or drug and alcohol problems.

Symptoms of depression

For people with chronic or serious illnesses it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between ‘understandable unhappiness’ and depression.

Typical features of depression include:

  • a prolonged period of low mood that is uncharacteristic for the person;
  • a loss of interest in everyday things such as hobbies and family;
  • an inability to look forward to things;
  • an inability to find pleasure in things they used to enjoy;
  • a loss of self esteem;
  • negative thoughts and feelings;
  • feelings of guilt;
  • sleep disturbance; and
  • a change in appetite.

Treatment

Treating depression helps relieve the symptoms of depression, but can also help treat symptoms associated with your medical condition, improve physical functioning and increase your quality of life.

Treatment of depression involves psychological treatments, antidepressant medicines, lifestyle changes and sometimes a combination of all three. For some people with physical illnesses, modifications to the usual treatment approach are necessary. Your doctor will be able to assess your situation and create a treatment plan to fit your needs.

Your doctor will also review any treatments you are using for your medical condition to ensure none of them are associated with depressed mood.

Getting sufficient sleep, eating healthily, getting some physical activity (depending on your physical limitations) and joining a support group can also help treat depression and improve mood.

Last Reviewed: 13 February 2013
myDr

Online doctor

Need health advice right now?See an Australian-registered doctor on your phone

References

1. Olver JS, Hopwood MJ. Depression and physical illness. MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 4: 9-12. https://www.mja.com.au/open/2012/1/4/depression-and-physical-illness (accessed Jan 2013).
2. Beyondblue. Chronic physical illness and depression – Fact sheet 23 (updated 26 April 2012). http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=7.980&http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=6.1068&tmp=FileDownload&fid=773 (accessed Jan 2013).
3. MayoClinic.com. Depression (major depression) (updated10 Feb 2012). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175/ (accessed Jan 2013).
myDr

myDr

myDr provides comprehensive Australian health and medical information, images and tools covering symptoms, diseases, tests, medicines and treatments, and nutrition and fitness.