9 Ways to Relieve Depression From Hepatitis C
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Having hepatitis C not only takes a toll on your physical health — it can also tax your mental health.
Depression is common in people with hepatitis C, according to HCVAdvocate.org, an online education and support network for those with the condition. In fact, in a 2019 study published in the journalGut and Liver, roughly 18 percent of people receiving treatment for hepatitis C reported being depressed.
The American Psychiatric Association describes depression as persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Although symptoms vary from person to person, those with depression commonly experience loss of interest in hobbies or other once-loved activities; fatigue or reduced energy; difficulty concentrating, problems with decision-making, or memory loss; insomnia; loss of appetite or weight loss; or thoughts of death or suicide.
There are several reasons for the relationship between depression and hepatitis C, HCVAdvocate.org reports. First, there is the shock of the hepatitis C diagnosis itself, followed by the fears and anxieties associated with being told you have a chronic condition.
Then there’s the stigma linked with hepatitis C, which may isolate those with the condition from family and friends. Finally, although hepatitis C is very treatable, knowing that it can be fatal (only if left untreated) leaves many newly diagnosed people feeling stressed.
And there are more complicated connections as well, says Kenneth E. Sherman, MD, PhD, a hepatologist and the director of the division of digestive diseases and the Gould Professor of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “There is some evidence that people who are most likely to get hepatitis C already have depression or are more prone to depression,” he says. “In addition, the spectrum of depression-related disorders might lead to risk behaviors that also predispose you to hepatitis C.” (One example: injection-drug use.)
Dr. Sherman adds that there is also some evidence that hepatitis C may also cause “neurocognitive changes” in the brain, resulting from viral cells being replicated there, and that these changes may lead to “depression-like” symptoms. Current understanding of hepatitis C’s effect on brain cells was summarized in a review published in 2015 in theWorld Journal of Gastroenterology.
Regardless of the cause of depression in those with hepatitis C, though, it’s important to note that both of the conditions are treatable — as long as you and your care team remain vigilant and proactive. If you have hepatitis C, here are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk for depression or, if you already have it, to address it:
1. Educate yourself.“Separating fact from fiction can be enormously reassuring,” HCVAdvocate.org notes. “[People] sometimes hear or read something incorrect that leads them to believe that their health or prognosis is worse than it really is.” Make a list of concerns as well as related questions and discuss them with your doctor during routine visits. Knowledge is power, and, in this case, it may be reassuring.
2. Exercise.According to HCVAdvocate.org, exercise may be the most effective self-help tool for fatigue and depression. Work with your care team to develop an exercise regimen that works for your schedule and overall health. Start slowly, the organization adds. Even 5- to 15-minute “workouts” (like walking two to three times per day can boost your mood and ward off fatigue.
3. Sleep well.The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night, the National Sleep Foundation says. With a chronic condition like hepatitis C, proper rest is even more important.
4. Eat well.A low-fat, high-fiber diet containing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can improve your overall health and give you more energy, HCVAdvocate.org says.
5. Try mindfulness meditation or yoga.Positive thinking can help reduce negative thoughts, says HCVAdvocate.org, and approaches like meditation and yoga can also help reduce stress.
6. Limit or stop substance use.Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and so-called “recreational” drugs can worsen depression and anxiety symptoms, HCVAdvocate.org reports, and may have other adverse effects on your overall health. Talk with your doctor about what steps to take to reduce or eliminate these substances from your life.
7. Build a support symptom.Don’t go it alone. Support from family and friends is crucial to dealing with hepatitis C and reducing your risk for depression, Sherman notes. If needed, there are support groups, both online and in local communities, who can help, according to HCVAdvocate.org.
8. Seeing a behavioral health professional.If you’re feeling depressed and support groups or support from family and friends isn’t enough, talk to your doctor about a referral to a behavioral health specialist, Sherman says. They may recommend regular sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy or treatment with antidepressant medications to help you feel better.
9. Consider taking antidepressants.Your behavioral health professional or doctor may recommend trying antidepressant therapy to treat depression, according to Sherman. However, “the choice of those medications is highly individualized and should be discussed with a psychiatrist or other physician,” he says.
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