It’s National Mental Health Awareness week. As depression can be a symptom of lupus I thought we should address this, particularly as it’s much more common than people imagine.
Depression can obviously also be caused by having/being diagnosed with lupus, it's an awful disease and a lot to cope with, so people can develop depression due to this and that can occur after diagnosis.
Depression is something that I've admitted to having suffered, anyone that knows me will know that not only am I a ‘glass half full’ person, but my glass is usually overflowing, so they’re often surprised to hear that I'd had depression.
It’s a very personal story, but one I have occasionally shared before. It took over 4 years for me to get a diagnosis of lupus (sadly this is the average time for diagnosis), during the period before being told I had lupus (over 20 years ago) I suddenly became very depressed, by that I don’t mean a short period of feeling a bit fed up, but full blown depression. Being Miss Independent, as usual, I tried to deal with it by myself, I was embarrassed and felt weak trying continually to ‘pull myself together’. I didn’t tell any of my friends and I’m sure now some would be surprised to know that this was going on. I also didn’t mention it to work colleagues, but simply put on a brave face showing what a great actress I had become.
The depression seemed to come from nowhere, I couldn’t really understand why it happened. It didn’t seem to build up, but was suddenly just there as part of my life, of course now I know that it was another symptom of lupus. I carried on trying to ignore it until one day I was waiting for a tube (I lived in London) and as I was standing there I looked at the tracks and thought “one step forwards and this could all stop”.
Thankfully that was the point when I realised it had gone too far and I needed to speak to someone, so I went to my local GP. I was often at my GP’s, I had gone from never visiting to going pretty much every week, whilst they continually misdiagnosed me, despite having classic symptoms of lupus. They offered me anti depressants immediately, there wasn’t much investigation into why I was suddenly depressed apart from the suggestion that I was stressed, maybe it was my work (it wasn’t I was perfectly happy there), my relationships (again no, I was happily single and no children to worry about). The GP then gave up and doled out anti depressants.
I eventually got back to my usual self and after a while I went back to the GP to ask to stop the anti depressants and I’ve never had a recurrence, which I’m extremely grateful for as I was getting into a very dark place.
Later (after I had finally been diagnosed with lupus - my full story is here) I had a discussion with my GP about depression and he refused to believe that it was a symptom of lupus, telling me it had to be related to something else like my job, or relationship (those old chestnuts again!). Next time I went back I took some info on a clinical trial. The trial was on mice that had a tendency towards having lupus. They manifested signs of depression, such as not interacting with other mice. I asked him if he thought their depression was due to their job! There are similar trial results online if you're interested in reading more about the research.
If you are depressed please seek help, don’t do what I did and try to cope alone. These days things are much better, there’s much more awareness, more understanding, not the stigma there was years ago and different/better treatment options. As with all lupus symptoms it can remit as mine did, there is light at the end of the dark tunnel.