The link between depression and MS

People with MS are at a higher risk of depression than people without MS. In fact, depression affects nearly half of people with MS at least once in their lives. Why is depression so common in people with MS?

We don't completely understand why people with MS are more prone to depression. Depression is caused by a complex interaction between physical and psychological factors. In people with MS, there are a number of factors that are believed to be involved.

First, MS damages nerve cells in the brain. The purpose of nerve cells is to carry messages throughout the nervous system. If nerve cells involved in mood and behavior are damaged, then changes in mood and behavior, such as depression, may occur.

Second, depression symptoms may be related to changes in the immune system (such as the immune system overactivity seen in people with MS).

Third, stressful life events, such as the diagnosis of MS or an exacerbation, can trigger depression in people who are prone to the condition. The risk of depression increases when a person with MS suffers an exacerbation or becomes increasingly disabled.

Finally, depression may be linked to certain MS treatments, including steroids and interferon medications. However, the data are conflicting and no conclusions can currently be drawn as to whether these drugs increase the risk of depression.

Increased public awareness of depression and other mental health conditions has helped reduce the stigma of these conditions. Unfortunately, some "depression myths" still exist:

  • Myth: If you're depressed, it's your own fault.
    • Fact: Depression is a medical condition - people do not bring it on themselves.
  • Myth: You can cure your depression through willpower alone.
    • Fact: Willpower alone cannot cure depression. The usual treatment for depression involves psychological therapy and/or medications.
  • Myth: People with depression are mentally "weak."
    • Fact: Depression is not related to mental weakness or a character flaw. Instead, it is related to a combination of biochemical and psychological factors that have nothing to do with someone's intelligence or strength of character.
  • Myth: Depressed people who talk about committing suicide will not actually do it.
    • Fact: All talk of suicide should be taken seriously, because the person may act on it.

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