Oct. 8th, 2009

msf_staff: (Kasey)
This week (October 4-10) is Mental Illness Awareness Week in the U.S. Coincidentally, we are just putting to bed the latest issue of MSFocus (due in mailboxes later this month), the theme of which is on mental health for people with MS. Why is this an issue?

First of all, because having MS does not exclude you from having any other illness, including mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. They estimate that only 6 percent of those are "serious" mental illnesses, but if you are the one experiencing it, it's "serious." to you.

Moreover, some researchers believe there may be a connection between MS and bipolar disorder, as it appears that bipolar disorder is unusually common among those with MS. This connection isn't proven, but the increased prevalence has been noted.

Then, of course, there's the issue of depression. Depression is an illness that's intimately married with MS. Whether it's pre-existing before a diagnosis of MS, an MS symptom caused by the disease process itself, a side effect of MS medications, or an emotional and physiological response to the stress of dealing with a chronic illness, the fact is that the majority of people with MS will experience depression at some point. It needs to be taken seriously, and it needs to be treated.

This is an area where we cannot afford stigma. Depression can create or aggravate pain, fatigue, cognitive impairment, and a host of other MS-related symptoms. In that light, while it may not be advancing the disease process, you could certainly say that depression makes MS "worse."

Don't allow that to happen to you or someone you know with MS. Treat depression as what it is: a common part of MS that has to be faced. Address it head-on and get treatment. There's help available, if only you make the choice to seek it!

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