Mental Health and UC Connection
Last updated: February 2023
My life was total darkness. All around me, the walls closed in. My breath came in shallow bursts. The pain throbbed in my gut and drummed on incessantly. It was time ticking down the moments of a life lived in misery. I was so tired of fighting. I was tired of suffering. I just wanted it all to end.
As a person living with ulcerative colitis for more than 30 years, I can't stress enough the psychosocial ramifications. To be honest, I've fallen into states of depression many times.
During my early 20s, my UC raged and thrashed its miserable assault upon my body. As I tried navigating school, work, and personal life, UC wouldn’t ease its hold. I felt hopeless.
Then, a personal rejection occurred that sent me spiraling physically and mentally. My colitis roared at the highest level I'd ever experienced. The bleeding and anemia of UC threw me into a deep, dark well.
So, what happens when one feels hopeless?
Experiencing depression with ulcerative colitis
For me at a tender age, I contemplated suicide. The tunnel vision I experienced said that a permanent sleep would be better than suffering.
But thank goodness a dear friend reached out and asked, "Are you all right?" That small question opened the door for me to see just enough light to turn my spirits around.
Sadly, people living with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis could be at greater risk for depression and anxiety. This could lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. So, those with IBD need to recognize the signs of struggling emotionally.
Relying on others for support with IBD
If bouts of sadness or stress last for several weeks, then you should seek help. Seeking mental health help is just as important as seeking physical help.
What I know to be true is that friends, loved ones, and physicians are lifelines for those suffering from IBD. At times, we need help navigating daily life. Reducing stress and anxiety is central to also managing the disease.
Focusing on physical and mental health
In truth, the gut-brain connection lives as a superhighway. So, smoothing the passage when the gut hurts stands vital to reducing mental health issues.
But many times, physicians are more focused on treating the disease activity. Over the years, I've never had a gastroenterologist ask about my emotional state. Questions such as, "How are you dealing with all of this?" "Are you able to socialize?" "Do you feel isolated at home?" and "Are you able to work?" can open the door to great mental health conversations.
I know that at age 22, my life almost came to a complete stop. My colitis was flaring so bad that I couldn't see beyond the pain. Thank goodness I had a friend willing to reach out with four simple words: "Are you all right?"
Watching out for warning signs
Now that I'm older, wiser, and able to cope better with UC flares, I see the toll this disease can take on a person. The more severe Crohn's or colitis is on a body, the greater the toll it can take on the mind.
Ultimately, someone with IBD needs to look for the following symptoms:
- If you're sad most of the time, feeling hopeless, or feeling like nothing matters
- If you no longer enjoy your hobbies
- If you can't concentrate
- If you sleep too much or very little
- If your appetite changes
- If you get irritated easily
- If you can't stop worrying
- If you obsess over little things
- If you've had thoughts about death or suicide
Resources for people with Crohn's and UC
Please seek help right away. Talk to someone. Talk to a doctor or counselor, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Light does exist. Provide yourself or a loved one with the opportunity to open the door and see how light chases away the darkness.
Editor's note: If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Call or text 9-8-8 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or use the Lifeline online chat.
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