women 4 hope

Dedicated to addressing women’s issues.

Chronic Illness and Depression — What Came First?

Posted by Catherine Morgan on March 5, 2007

picture by © brucecombs

CHRONIC ILLNESS AND DEPRESSION — What came first? – by Catherine Morgan

If you found out you had Diabetes and became depressed, the doctor would tell you that it is normal to feel depressed after a diagnosis such as this. And the doctor would be correct. Chronic illness changes your life, it is scary, it is frustrating, and yes it can also be very depressing. And, there is no shame in admitting that you are depressed, there are many things your doctor can do to help you with this problem.

Just about every person that suffers from a chronic illness will also suffer in some way with depression. If you are diagnosed with Lupus, or MS, or cancer, or any other chronic medical condition, your doctor will be totally understanding when you come to him with your feelings of depression, as he should be. And treating your depression should be an important part of the overall treatment of your illness.

It would be virtually unheard of for a doctor to suggest that a persons depression was the cause of their Lupus, or the cause of their MS, or the cause of their cancer. But, in the case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition that the CDC considers to be just as devastating as these other chronic illnesses, doctors will often insist that the depression is causing the disease, and not the other way around.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a debilitating disease that occurs four times more frequently in women than in men.

So, why is it so impossible to believe that a person suffering from debilitating fatigue, weakness, and pain, could be depressed because of these symptoms? Why is it so crazy to think, that a person facing a disease process with no known cure and no beneficial treatment, might find this prognosis a bit depressing? Why is it o.k. for the medical community to assume that this chronic condition is actually caused by emotional issues? It would be unheard of for a doctor to tell a patient with cancer, that if they could cure their depression the disease would go away. But, the medical community feels it is acceptable to suggest just that to patients with CFS and FM.

By minimizing this condition in such a way, the patient with CFS is made to feel as if they are causing their illness. But, the truth is, if CFS was caused by depression, many more people would be being cured of CFS. Depression is a condition that has many successful treatments. The simple fact that no one has been cured of their CFS, with a treatment for depression, should be the end to this debate.

Unfortunately, because the medical community has been unable to find a specific lab test to diagnose this condition, they would like to continue to treat it as a condition that does not exist. A good doctor will at least say it is a diagnosis of elimination, but still, too many others will say it is not a diagnosis at all. It wasn’t too long ago that there was no clinical diagnosis for Alzheimer’s Disease either, it could not be diagnosed until after death and a brain biopsy, but people were still being diagnosed and treated for this condition, based on their symptoms. Surprisingly enough, making a diagnosis based on a person’s symptoms, was actually an acceptable means of practicing medicine up until very recently. I believe this is actually a practice that is still being taught in most medical schools to this day, although conveniently not being applied, in place of tests and scans.

The sad truth is that hundreds of thousands of people suffer with this debilitating disease, in both silence and shame; when the only people that should be feeling shame about this disease, are the doctors who refuse to accept the symptoms of their patients. What ever happened to “do no harm”? Let me suggest, that by blaming a person’s medical condition on the patient themselves, that this is tantamount to doing “harm”. Turning a blind eye on a patient because of ignorance, is actually doing harm. Just because a disease has a stupid name, doesn’t mean it is acceptable for doctors to treat the patients with this disease as if they are stupid, that would be doing harm.

All that I am suggesting, is that we all “do no harm”, to the people who are already suffering enough with a disease that is already doing enough harm. Have compassion, have a little compassion.






Living In The Shadow Of Myself


inside my walls
picture by © cloud9999


a poem

Although I fight it, it is never far from me, because it is me.

Living with chronic illnesses that ravage my body, and prevent me from being the person I have always wanted to be.

My former self sits in the shadow of these illnesses, weeping with the sad reality that there is no escape from them.

Suffering from debilitating diseases, that are virtually invisible to the outside world, but still hoping someone will see me….here in my own shadow.

But even if someone did open their eyes and see me, it would still be impossible for them to grab onto the hand of my shadow.

So I must learn to live here, living in the shadow of myself, and try to find peace.

also see: living with chronic fatigue syndrome

7 Responses to “Chronic Illness and Depression — What Came First?”

  1. […] post by Catherine Morgan and software by […]

  2. A very simple way to tell if someone is suffering from “just depression” or from CFIDS is to see how they react to exercise. A depressed person can exercise just fine, and in fact will feel BETTER after they do. A person with CFIDS will crash and feel WORSE after exercise. There is a study that proves this, and it is a hallmark for people with CFIDS. I wish more doctors were updated on things like this, but they seem to enjoy dismissing people with real illnesses.


    Donna Mirabile
    email always welcome at:

  3. Hi Donna,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I agree with you 100%.

    I hate to say it, but I feel like if CFS was “man’s” disease, I don’t think there would be a problem with diagnosis. It is kind of like women and heart disease 30, 40 years ago…..women with chest pain were just “anxious”….men with chest pain were having a heart attack. Same symptoms, different diagnosis (based on only ignorance, nothing else).

  4. […] post by Catherine Morgan […]

  5. Michael said

    Very Interesting.

  6. Maria said

    I do agree that CFS and FM are real diseases that can occur without the presence of depression. However, as a person with chronic, treatment resistant depression and anxiety, I’m not entirely sure that depression cannot cause other illnesses, such as CFS, or even cancer.

    It’s known that the daily drain of depression causes many harmful physical effects in the body. Chronic depression is known to compromise the body’s immune system. It’s also known that low seretonin levels can cause upper GI distress.

    It’s also known that the the body can have a predisposition for a disease, which may include such diseases as CFS, FM, RA, or cancer. The degree of predisposition can range from very low to very high. Those with a low predisposition for a disease may never develop the illness. It’s not yet know what may trigger the development of a disease in one person, but not another, even though they both have the same degree of predispostion for the disease.

    It would not surprise me if scientists one day prove that depression can cause the body of a person with a low predisposition for a disease to develop the illness. Conversely, the body of a person that did not suffer from depression, but also had a predisposition for the same disease, may never develop the illness.

    Certainly many other factors can come into play. A depressed person is more likely to have addictive behaviors, such as smoking. Obviously, in a body predisposed to cancer, this could definitely contribute to it’s development.

    I have suffered from depression since my early teens, but did not begin taking medicine until my late 20’s. Now 42, my depression is what can be called “controlled”. However, I’ve become resistant to almost all the SSRI type medications. And I still suffer from daily mild depression and some major depressive episodes.

    Two years ago I was diagnoses with Reynauds, an auto-immune disorder that is known to occur before or with other auto-immune diseases such as RA and Lupis. While my blood work does not show I have RA or Lupis, some tests were borderline, which means I may eventually develop the disease. In the last year, I’ve had terrible gastric pains. A recent upper scope showed inflammation on my esophogus that is know to sometimes develop into cancer. The inflammation could have be caused by stress/anxiety, my medications, the h. pryori bacteria(ulcer), they don’t know yet. I am frequently fatigued and wake daily with joint pain. I tire easily. One part or all of my body hurts most of the time. I attribute it to depression because I’ve been tested for other diseases with these symptoms.

    I do believe my chronic depression may have triggered these physical problems. And I believe it may also trigger the development of a more serious disease. Science has not yet proven that depression can cause other diseases, but my body and brain tell me it’s entirely possible.

    This now brings up the whole negative vs. positive thinking theory (which I also believe in). Couldn’t chronic negative thoughts, which are a symptom of depression, also cause a body to develop a disease it may be predispositioned to develop?

    I have no doubt CFS is a real disease that can occur without the presence of depression. And if depression could trigger the development of CFS (or any other disease), I don’t believe the CFS would just go away even if the depression was relieved. But whether depression can cause a disease, yes, I do believe it is possible.

  7. […] now due to the medication, I notice from the automatic links the suggestion that depression causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and that the incidence is four times more likely in women. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

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