Depression gets less attention than many of the other conditions that frequently accompany arthritis. But it can be just as serious, exacerbating the symptoms of arthritis and making them more difficult to treat. The good news is that depression does not need to be weathered silently and alone; it can be effectively treated. This article lists websites and books that can help you or someone you know take the first steps to managing depression and arthritis.
It has long been known that having arthritis can make some people more susceptible to depression. The pain of arthritis and the functional limitations it imposes can turn people inward, keeping them from working, socializing, and participating in activities they once enjoyed, all of which can increase the likelihood of depression. Researchers also believe that depression and pain are intimately linked and may share some chemical pathways in the brain. It is estimated that almost a third of people with a chronic pain condition have depression related to their condition.
What is depression? Someone who is feeling sad may say that he or she is “depressed.” But feeling “down” or “blue” — as we all do sometimes — does not equal depression. People who have major depression, the most common type of depression, experience some of the following symptoms for extended periods: sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings; feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness; loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities; fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability; getting too little or too much sleep; eating too little or too much; and thoughts of death or suicide.
Contrary to what some think, people with depression cannot simply snap out of it. Asking people with clinical depression to just “buck up” or “not think about it” makes as much sense as asking people with arthritis to just make their joints stop hurting. Like arthritis, depression is a medical condition that requires focused management. Treatments for depression include conservative approaches such as psychotherapy as well as a wide variety of medicines. Unfortunately, many people, especially older people, do not get the help they need to deal with their depression. For some seniors, there is a stigma surrounding depression that prevents them from coming forward and seeking treatment.
There are many books and websites offering information about depression’s causes, symptoms, and treatments. We list some of them here. Resources such as these can also help people who have a friend or family member who is dealing with depression.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance site has a great deal of information on depression and its treatment as well as practical advice for people dealing with depression. Under “Empower Yourself” on the left-hand column of the page, you will find many resources targeted to help you tackle depression. Click on “Find Support” to locate a depression support group in your area and access the Alliance’s online support group and online discussion boards.
This site is provided by Advanced Recovery Systems, an integrated behavioral health care management organization dedicated to the treatment of addiction, substance abuse, eating disorders and mental health issues. Substance abuse is common among people who suffer from depression, and many people with depressive disorder may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to alleviate the symptoms of their illness. The website has extensive information on substance abuse, addiction, and mental illness.
Families for Depression Awareness
Families for Depression Awareness seeks to help the whole family deal with the depression of one of its members. From the main web page, click on “Family Stories & Interviews” in the left-hand column for stories of people who have dealt with depression. Or click on “Support” to search for many different kinds of treatment professionals and learn about depression support groups.
Freedom From Fear
On the left-hand column of Freedom From Fear’s main page, click on “About Anxiety and Depression” for information on depression, anxiety, and the treatment of these conditions. Under “Links & Resources,” you can screen yourself for depression and read about health insurance for people with depression.
Geriatric Mental Health Foundation
The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation promotes mental health treatment for seniors. From the main page, click on “Consumer/Patient Information” and then scroll down to find information on depression. Articles include “A Guide to Mental Wellness in Older Age” and “Coping with Depression and the Holidays.”
Mental Health America
Look under “Health Info” on Mental Health America’s web page for fact sheets on depression and its treatment. Under “Get Help,” you can find advice on screening and treatment and paying for care as well as contact information for your local Mental Health America affiliate, which can help you locate a mental health professional in your area. (You can also find a therapist near you at the Psychology Today Therapy Directory or at the American Psychological Association Psychologist Locator, or by calling the American Psychological Association at 800-964-2000.)
The Psych Central website provides a thorough introduction to the diagnosis and treatment of depression and includes discussions of depression in different populations (teens, women, seniors). Scroll to the bottom of the page to find “Personal Stories of Depression.”
You Are Not Alone: Words of Experience and Hope for the Journey Through Depression
by Julia Thorne
Harper Perennial, New York, 1993
The author, who dealt with depression for many years, shares others’ first-hand accounts of their battles with the condition. The main message of the book is that those with depression can take solace and support from a community of people who have had similar experiences.
Beating the Senior Blues: How to Feel Better and Enjoy Life Again
by Leslie Eckford and Amanda Lambert
New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, California, 2002
The subject of this book is clinical depression, more than the “blues” referred to in the title. It is an easy-to-read primer on depression in seniors that leads people through small steps that can help them manage depression. There are chapters on social connections, exercise, medicines, and dealing with grief. The book also includes many stories of seniors who have overcome depression.
On the Edge of Darkness
by Kathy Cronkite
Delta, New York, 1994
This book offers first-hand accounts of depression by some of America’s most well-known people.
Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You
by Richard O’Connor, PhD
Berkley Trade, New York, 1999
Dr. O’Connor takes readers through an explanation of depression and, while acknowledging that there is no simple solution to the condition, presents behaviors and ways of thinking that can help put people on the road to dealing with, or “undoing,” their depression. The book includes chapters on work, family, and marriage.