Co-morbid depression

by | Mental Health

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.


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.

Mental health helplines

If you or someone you know is feeling distressed and/or having suicidal thoughts, see your doctor, phone one of these helplines or click on the links below for online web chat counselling or support. Call 000 if life is in danger.

Lifeline (24 hours) 13 11 14
Kids Helpline (for young people aged 5 to 25 years) 1800 55 1800
Beyond Blue Support Service (24 hours) 1300 22 4636
MensLine Australia (24 hours) 1300 78 99 78
SANE Helpline – mental illness information, support and referral 1800 187 263
Suicide Call Back Service (24 hours) – free counselling support 1300 659 467