Why do people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have depression?

Depression is very common in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). In fact, symptoms of depression severe enough to require medical intervention affect up to half of all people with MS at some point during their illness.

Depression may be the result of a difficult situation or stress. It is easy to understand how having MS, with its potential for progressing to permanent disability, can bring on depression.

Depression might be actually caused by MS. MS may affect the insulating myelin that surrounds nerves which transmit signals affecting mood.

Depression is also a side effect of some drugs used to treat MS, such as steroids or interferon.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Everyone at one time or another has felt depressed, sad, or blue. Sometimes the feeling of sadness becomes intense, lasting for long periods of time and preventing a person from leading a normal life. This is depression, a mental illness that, if left untreated, can worsen, lasting for years and causing untold suffering, and possibly even resulting in suicide. It is important to recognize the signs of depression, which include:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Loss of enjoyment from things that were once pleasurable
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Irritability
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Inability to fall or stay asleep at night (insomnia)
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Stomach ache and digestive problems
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Sexual problems
  • Headache
  • A change in appetite causing weight loss or gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Attempting suicide

What are the warning signs of suicide?

If you or someone you know is demonstrating any of the following warning signs, contact a mental health professional right away or go to the emergency room for immediate treatment.

  • Talking about suicide (killing one's self)
  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Saying things like "It would be better if I weren't here" or "I want out"
  • Depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating) that gets worse
  • A sudden switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
  • Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, like driving through red lights
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about
  • Visiting or calling people one cares about
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up lose ends, changing a will