Dealing with Depression

Living with a chronic disease like Hepatitis C can be depressing and coping with the side effects of treatment isn’t easy either.  One of the drugs used to treat Hepatitis C – interferon – can cause depression in varying degrees. Therefore, it is very important to tell your doctor before you begin treatment if you or a family member has a history of depression or psychiatric illness.  It’s especially important to report any hospitalizations, thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.  Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for assessment and treatment of your depression before beginning Hepatitis C therapy.

The symptoms of Hepatitis C treatment induced depression are similar to those of regular depression.  These include feeling sad, fatigued, irritable, having trouble concentrating or sleeping, experiencing a change in appetite, and possibly thoughts of self-harm or suicide.  If you ever have thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself or others, seek immediate professional help.

The good news is that there are things that can be done to help you.  A class of antidepressant medication – called SSRI’s – has been shown to be effective in treating depression in people with Hepatitis C who are receiving interferon.  Because antidepressant medication can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks to become fully effective, many people begin taking an SSRI prior to starting their Hepatitis C treatment.  Antidepressant medications can dramatically improve your quality of life during treatment.

In addition, there are things you can do to help yourself feel better.  These include eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, being physically active, reducing stress, seeking emotional support, and practicing positive thinking.  Practical self-management tips are outlined in the next section on managing your health while on treatment.