Depression is commonly comorbid (co-occurring) with chronic illness and chronic pain. It makes sense. Our lifestyles drastically (and often suddenly) change. We may lose relationships (of different sorts), our purpose in life may change, and not to mention the pain centre of the brain is right next to the mood centre. Even the most resilient of us struggle with depression and a bit of an identity crisis upon having a chronic pain/illness diagnosis (or even no diagnosis but jut the onset of symptoms). I have also struggled with depression. Some of it stemming from childhood trauma, but I really noticed it after the onset of my pain/illness. Actually I was in complete denial about it at first and went to counselling only for anxiety (though my very perceptive counsellor was certainly treating me for depression as well).
So, personally, I’m not a fan of a lot of medication. I take what I need to, and try to find alternative solutions for other things. I would never say that I’ve been more than mildly depressed. I use exercise for pain and it also happens to help with depressive symptoms. When I notice my mood is low I practice behavioural activation. Example – a few weeks ago I noticed I had low mood which was definitely correlated with an increase in pain and decreased energy. I had plans with friends and my partner for a board game night, and while a part of me really wanted to cancel on them, I made myself go because I knew it would improve my mood. Guess what? I really enjoyed the night, had a great time, and slept in the next day so it was all good (actually it was great!).
Exercise and behavioural activation are great and there is tons of research to show their effectiveness for pain and depression. There is a growing amount of research showing that turmeric (or more accurately the active ingredient in turmeric – curcumin) is as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression, including with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). It also happens to decrease inflammation in the body, leading to less physical pain. According to the research I’ve linked below, it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in the amount of curcumin/turmeric used and there were only mild side effects in some patients who were taking doses of 12g/day. Definitely some interesting and potentially helpful research for anyone who, like me, prefers to stay natural as often as possible. Now, I’m by no means dissing anti-depressants. Many people benefit from them and need them. If that’s you, please stick with it. This is more of an option for anyone who doesn’t want to use them, and is looking for alternatives.
Turmeric can come in different forms. Powder that you use on food (popular in many Asian cultures), and supplements you can buy from a health store are the most common and popular. I also have a lovely turmeric tea that I buy and try to drink more often when my pain increases or my mood is low. Definitely a few great options if you’re interested in giving it a try. As with everything, I take a scientific approach and view any of these ideas as an experiment. Clearly the research shows that it works for a lot of people. Will it work for me or you? The only way to find out is to be curious and give it a try. Maybe it’s another way we can keep making the most of it!
Ramaholimihaso, T., Bouazzaoui, F., & Kaladjian, A. (2020). Curcumin in Depression: Potential Mechanisms of Action and Current Evidence – A Narrative Review. Front Psychiatry, 11, 572533. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.572533