Multiple sclerosis and Depression

Non Smit
By Non Smit
4 Min Read

It’s possible that if you have multiple sclerosis, you’re also likely to experience depression sometimes. The happy news is that there are ways to beat it.

Clinical depression is a persistent state of feeling ‘low’, and it’s something you can’t just snap out of quickly. These are some of the symptoms, according to the American Psychiatric Association:

  • Feeling depressed, feeling sad or empty or tearful
  • Losing interest or finding no pleasure in daily activities
  • Losing or gaining weight and appetite
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Being agitated
  • Being tired and having no energy
  • Feeling worthless or excessively guilty
  • Not thinking clearly and having trouble concentrating
  • Feeling that you would be better off dead or that you’d like to kill yourself.

For a diagnosis of clinical depression, symptoms:

  • Must last for at least two weeks (and at least five of the symptoms have to be present);
  • Must be severe enough to upset daily routine, interfere with relationships and impact on daily work;
  • Are not caused by alcohol, drugs, medication or physical illness
  • Cannot be attributed to a distressing event, like a bereavement.

MS and depression
Some pertinent discoveries have been made: people with MS are almost three times more likely to suffer from major depression at some stage of their lives. Their depression could also be linked to the uncertainties associated with MS – such concern about the future, the ability to work and earning a living, independence and the possibility of disability. People with MS experience more depressive episodes than people with other neurological disorders such as muscular dystrophy and motor neuron disease.

There is no link between how long a person has had MS and depression. A newly diagnosed person can experience depression, while a person who has had MS for many years can also become depressed.

Disability is sometimes a contributing factor, but the severity of the disability does not necessarily relate to the experience of depression.

There is a family link to depression where often a person with depression has a family member who has had depression (although this link is less likely with a person with MS).

In major depression there are typical symptoms of guilt and worthlessness, while a person with MS instead tends to experience irritability and a sense of frustration.

Generally treatment for MS is focused on physical symptoms, but depression can be treated successfully. Often ‘talking therapies’ are combined with drug therapies.

Drugs often cause side effects, but doctors often opt for a lower dose with limited effect rather than to discontinue the drug completely.

The ‘talking therapies’ include psychotherapy and behaviour therapy, where a person is guided to interpret situations more positively and given problem-solving techniques.

If you’re on anti-depressants, avoid natural therapies – and always get medical advice before trying any product or treatment for MS.

A good place to start, if you feel you need to talk to someone, is to speak to your doctor or neurologist.

The MSSA can facilitate services through FAMSA (Families South Africa) – a nationwide organisation offering counselling services to support anyone with MS, their families, friends and carers. All calls are treated confidentially.

Another good option is to join a support group: this is also seen as a platform for the ‘talking therapies’ in a group format. Contact MSSA to find out more about the closed and confidential online support group on Facebook supporting every person living with MS in South Africa.

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