Everyone can feel down, sad, or irritable when bad things happen – this is normal, and part of life. If you feel down about life because of your GI symptoms, this is also a normal way to feel – you are not alone. However, some people have these feelings for a very long time, or even when things are going well. When those feelings of sadness or disinterest in life persist for more than a couple weeks, and are accompanied by changes in energy level, sleep, thinking, or feelings, we may say that person is depressed.
Depression is a condition that must be diagnosed by a qualified healthcare professional. Just because you said "yes" to some of these questions does not mean you are depressed. However, if you find that you are sad, irritable, or no longer interested in life for longer than a couple weeks, you may want to speak to someone about how you feel.
For some people, depression is a sadness or anger they cannot shake. For others, depression is the absence of any feelings at all. In all cases, people with depression feel like they are stuck – tired, but unable to sleep or sleeping too much; overwhelmed with negative thoughts, but unable to escape those thoughts; feeling restless or sapped of energy, and unable to change. It is this perceived inability to make changes that characterizes depression, and is often the focus of therapy.
When your GI symptoms flare up, you might feel disappointed or overwhelmed by them. You might feel like they will never go away, or that you cannot do anything about them. People with chronic physical illnesses often find themselves in this situation, and they can feel sad and disinterested in life because of it. This is why depression often occurs in people with ongoing health difficulties. People will often say that they started feeling depressed after a setback in their illness – this negative life event can provoke a lingering depression that is hard to shake.
To make matters worse, feeling depressed can sometimes make your GI symptoms feel worse. Feeling sad or low on energy can make it hard to take the actions that help your GI symptoms. This can make the symptoms feel worse, which can in turn make your feelings of sadness, irritability, or disinterest in life worse still. Therapy for depression often focuses on breaking this cycle.
For people who are severely depressed, a combination of medication and "talk" therapy is often best. Again, you need to see a healthcare professional if you think you are severely depressed. It may sound like the most difficult thing in the world to do, but it is a courageous first step to seek help for yourself!
Most people are depressed for short periods of time – often after a major life event. These people often do not need medication, and can be helped with talk therapy. Research has found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – also called "CBT" – including mindfulness meditation, is most effective for treating mild to moderate depression. My Quality of Life (MyQOL) Toolbox contains some of the same activities people use when working with a therapist. Remember, if you are very depressed, you may need more help than MyQOL Toolbox can provide.