Depression Occurring with Physical Illness

It is common for people to feel down or sad when they have a physical illness. However, sometimes this sadness is severe and lasts a significant period of time; sometimes it is severe enough to be considered clinical depression. In fact, clinical depression occurs quite commonly in people with physical illnesses, and it is particularly common in people who are diagnosed with stroke, cancer, or diabetes.

It is also often associated with a number of neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Depression is important to recognize because research suggests that treating depression in people who are physically ill can improve the outcome of the medical condition and/or improve quality of life.

Theories as to why depression and physical illness occur together include:

- Certain medical conditions may contribute biologically to depression.

- Physically ill people may become depressed as a psychological reaction to the prognosis, the pain, or the affect that the illness has on their lives.

- Though occurring together, depression and a general physical illness may not be related.


- Twenty-five to forty percent of people with certain neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's, and multiple sclerosis develop depressive symptoms at some timeduring the course of their illness.

- Clinical depression occurs in about 25% or 1 in 4 people with cancer.

- It is estimated that between 40% to 65% of people with a history of heart attack have some form of depression, while 18% to 20% of those with a history of coronary artery disease who have not suffered a heart attack experience depression. People who survive a heart attack but suffer from depression have a much greater risk of dying than those who don't suffer from depression; their risk is three to four times greater in the six months following the heart attack.

- An estimated 10% to 27% of stroke victims in a given year experience major depression. An additional 15% to 40 percent suffer from some of the symptoms of depression. The average length of time that stroke patients suffer major depression is just under 1 year.

- People with adult onset diabetes have a 25% chance of having depression. Depression also affects as many as 70% of patients with diabetic complications.