Crohn’s and depression: If it isn’t one end it’s the other

Crohn's does not cause depression, though it can negatively alter people’s perception of themselves. Plus, depression and Crohn's disease have symptoms in common. Awareness helps us distinguish one illness from the other. Photo: The Knowles Gallery

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2012 — Receiving a diagnosis of any illness can knock the wind out of us. It takes a while to breath normally again. We may experience symptoms of depression while we adjust to the chronic diagnosis and learn to manage it. After a period of adjustment, the depressive symptoms usually diminish, but sometimes not.

Some illnesses, such as Crohn’s disease, have symptoms that overlap with those of depression. For example, feelings of helplessness and a diminished sense of worth are common signs of depression, but also typical reactions to living with a chronic illness.

Crohn’s is a cyclical disease of the digestive tract and intestines, causing the tissue to inflame and swell. It hurts to think about it. Other symptoms are chronic diarrhea and abdominal cramps, rectal bleeding, fever, weight loss, and the development of ulcers. This illness requires regular monitoring by a physician and continuous monitoring by the patients.

Most chronic illnesses are not thought to cause depression, including Crohn’s, though it can negatively alter people’s perception of themselves. Managing the illness can wear sufferers down as well.   

Adjustment or depression? 

It is easy to imagine that adjusting to an illness, with chronic diarrhea as a common symptom, is difficult. There is a period of adjustment that may include a depressed mood, and after adjustment there might be periodic periods of sadness or anxiety. How do Crohn’s patients know whether their bad moods are part of an adjustment period, or are a serious mental health issue?

A physician or mental health professional will look at how long the depressive symptoms have lasted and factor in the symptom crossover between depression and Crohn’s disease. Many people with Crohn’s benefit from seeing a psychotherapist and some choose to take antidepressants.

Crohn’s and Depression Share Symptoms of:

irritability, anxiety

feelings of helplessness or diminished worth

chronic fatigue or lethargy


loss of appetite, unintended weight loss

Crohn’s self care

Sadness is a very understandable feeling to experience when you do not have control over your bowels. Though understandable, sadness should be a stepping stone for moving forward. A temporary heartfelt mope, or a good cry, helps us grieve what is lost and accept the undesirable new. It might take a while to generate a more positive perspective about having Crohn’s, but doing so is one of the best ways to manage the disease.

Maybe the most important step for a Crohn’s patient is finding some “crohnies,” a support community of other Crohn’s sufferers. Being with those who understand intense intestinal issues is supportive and encouraging, also a great way to pick up effective coping tips from those who have been around the Crohn’s block.

It is recommended that Crohn’s patients get plenty of rest but maintain outside-the-home activities as much as possible. Isolation causes depressive symptoms in most people. Spending time outdoors, socializing with friends, and pursuing interests are human necessities, with or without Crohn’s.

Supporting people with Crohn’s Disease

Knowing your body can betray you at any time, anywhere, is a lot to handle; what an emotional potpourri for people with this illness. It would be a rare person who never felt deep in the dumps about it. 

If you know a Crohn’s patient that also has chronic disorganization-itis, remind them to set up their pill box or, if necessary, help them do it. 

Drive Crohn’s patients to doctor’s appointments or support group meetings; go with them to their appointments to get in on what the doc has to say.

People with this illness always need to know where the nearest bathroom is. Going out of the house may involve bathroom location planning that you can, or may need to be, part of.

Keep a “first aid” kit in the car, to take care of any sudden flare ups your friend or loved one may have.

Listen to them without offering anything other than your attention.

What do you mean it isn’t funny? 

The one thing we all can fall back on is humor. Even Crohn’s has a funny side according to Ben Morrison, the Crohn’s comic. He points out that it is the perfect legitimate reason for getting out of jury duty, that sufferers get to occasionally take state of the art painkillers, and if you do not want to visit your second cousin’s aunt Petunia, you can always “pull out the old “wicked flare” card.”


Where can you find an colossal amount of good information about Crohn’s disease? You will find answers to questions you never even thought to ask at Healthline.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


Contact Jacqueline Marshall


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