Chronic Illness and Depression

February 2021

Chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and obesity can also affect mental health, as it is associated with an increased risk for depression that may affect thought processes and memory. The stresses and demands of living with a chronic illness sometimes effects interpersonal and social relationships as well. The result is often feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, and diminished self-esteem. For millions of Americans, chronic illnesses and depression go hand in hand. Examples of chronic illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Chronic health conditions cause tremendous changes in a person’s life, including reducing independence. Physical effects of the condition itself or the side effects of medication can also lead to depression. It is important that patients work with their primary care physicians’ to create a plan that is maintainable in the patients’ current environment with consideration of the patient’s social determinants of health.

Although any illness can trigger depressed feelings, the risk of chronic illness and depression gets higher with the severity of the illness and the level of life disruption it causes. The risk of depression is generally 10-25% for women and 5-12% for men. However, people with a chronic illness face a much higher risk — between 25-33%. Risk is especially high in someone who has a history of depression.

Depression caused by chronic disease often makes the condition worse, especially if the illness causes pain and fatigue or it limits a person’s ability to interact with others. Depression can intensify pain, as well as fatigue and sluggishness. Research on chronic illnesses and depression indicates that depression rates are high among patients with chronic conditions:

  • Heart attack: 40%-65% experience depression
  • Coronary artery disease (without heart attack): 18%-20% experience depression
  • Parkinson’s disease: 40% experience depression
  • Multiple sclerosis: 40% experience depression
  • Stroke: 10%-27% experience depression
  • Cancer: 25% experience depression
  • Diabetes: 25% experience depression
  • Chronic pain syndrome: 30%-54% experience depression


*On-going discussions and routine follow up visits with your patients helps them to improve their quality of life and helps your practice achieve higher quality measure scores.

Additional Resources:

To request Optum coordination of care and referrals for your patients, go to  (use access code “clinician”) or call:

  • Medicaid: 401-443-5997
  • INTEGRITY (MMP): 401-443-5995
  • Commercial/Exchange: 833-470-0578