Is There A Link Between Crohn's Disease And Depression?

We all know how uncomfortable it feels when an upset stomach, abdominal pain, or diarrhea stops us right in our tracks as we're trying to get through a busy day. In such cases, taking Tums or Pepto Bismol may alleviate your discomfort. For individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), however, it's not uncommon to experience these distressing symptoms on a regular basis and to a greater degree. Crohn's disease is a form of IBD that leads to inflammation of the digestive tract, and individuals who have it can experience debilitating pain that interferes with their daily living.

Scientists don't know the direct cause of Crohn's disease, although the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation reports that the disease may be influenced by hereditary, genetic, and environmental factors. For instance, having parents with IBD could increase the likelihood of someone developing it themselves. Some researchers hypothesize that a virus or bacterium could potentially trigger Crohn's disease, activating an immune response where the body attacks the cells in the digestive tract.

Crohn's disease can be a precursor to other health concerns. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Crohn's disease can contribute to bowel blockage, fistulas, ulcers, and malnutrition.

Because of the connection between the mind and the body, it's likely that Crohn's disease will impact a person's mental health as well. Let's take a closer look at the association between Crohn's disease and depression.

Can Crohn's disease trigger depression?

As you can imagine, living with Crohn's disease isn't easy. It's understandable to feel a mixed bag of emotions when dealing with the disease, including sadness, anxiety, and frustration. Compared to the general public and people with other diseases, people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis have higher depression rates, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Individuals with Crohn's disease may also experience increased anxiety, as well as a fear of future flare-ups. 

A person's life can be affected by the disease in ways that can contribute to depression. People with the disease may prefer to stay isolated and avoid social situations due to concerns about how they will cope with their symptoms in public, as explained by Crohn's & Colitis. As a result, they could miss out on making pleasant memories with their loved ones and meeting new people. As the symptoms of Crohn's disease are not apparent to others at first glance, there's also a risk of feeling misunderstood by the people around them.

In a 2017 study published in Frontline Gastroenterology, adult participants were asked about how their disease has impacted them on an emotional level. Participants reported having a strained relationship with food, decreased self-esteem, lack of intimacy, and a negative effect on their relationships. 

Having Crohn's disease can also be emotionally taxing for adolescents, as their chronic illness makes them dependent on their families and the health care system during a developmental stage that's typically associated with gaining independence.

How to cope with depression associated with Crohn's disease

For people who live with Crohn's disease, it is possible to manage any feelings of depression and anxiety that may come with it. According to a 2019 study published by Frontiers in Pediatrics, research suggests that the symptoms of IBD can be aggravated by increased levels of stress.

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation shares that individuals struggling with uncomfortable symptoms of Crohn's disease may benefit from stress reduction techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

Deep breathing exercises can relax the body and may help with abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation. The process of progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing your muscles, which can also help relieve tension in the body. 

In the event of a flare-up, having a plan in place could help to ease depression, anxiety, and social isolation in individuals with Crohn's disease. They can identify nearby bathrooms and carry extra underwear and wet wipes, for example.

For those struggling with unwavering symptoms of depression, it's okay to reach out for professional help. According to a 2013 article published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, gut-directed hypnotherapy has shown promise as an effective treatment for irritable bowel diseases.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.