Depression and Suicide in Chronic Illness

With the death of the beloved Robin Williams this week, the Internet is abuzz with some of the best, honest, in-your-face truths about depression and its most profound side effect, suicide. In a statement released by his wife, we also learned that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and was unready to discuss it publicly.

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I have cried several times this week. I cried when I read that Robin Williams died. I cried watching Good Will Hunting because I had forgotten until I saw it again that the first time I watched it was with my mother, who also died too young. I cried because it’s a damn good movie. I cried hearing that Robin Williams had a neurological condition that doesn’t have a cure because I have met too many people with them, and I have seen their fear and their pain. And, I cried because it’s been a frustrating month with yet another treatment for a symptom that works for most people but for some reason, not for me.

Name a chronic illness, and you’ll find depression as a common companion. I’ve been thinking a lot about that side effect this week, and the sobering data that says people with mine (multiple sclerosis) are over seven times more likely to commit suicide. It’s five times for Parkinson’s disease.

“There is no cure for this,” they tell you when you’re diagnosed. Depressing, right?

In neurological conditions, depression can be reactive (sucks to have something incurable) or actually caused by the disease process itself (neurological diseases change your brain).

When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, there’s grief. The life you planned may be quite different than the one you’re given. And, you need time to process that. If you don’t deal with grief, it can become depression. Even if you do deal with grief, you can still get depression.

Add to that, a side effect of many of the medications given to neurological patients is depression. For the injectable disease-modifying MS drugs (like Rebif and Avonex), it’s also suicidal ideation.

Here’s where I should tell you how much of a difference exercise makes in depression management (it does), and how it has probably saved my life (it likely has). But what I really want to tell you is that if you are depressed today, or this month, or this year, please talk to someone about it. There are plenty of people who care. I know I do.

In health,


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