Major Depression and Medical Illness 

The misconception that major depression is normal in people suffering from health issues is common among patients and their family members. This is not necessarily the case, although the incidence of major depression and medical illness do tend to be higher among people who are suffering from a serious medical problem such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

In addition to this it is often the case that people suffering from depression and medical  illness may not be treated for the symptoms of depression as they are masked by the medical issues, which do get treated. Since major depression and medical illness are not the norm for people who are seriously medically ill, it is very important to recognize when the patient is depressed and to treat this along with their medical condition.

The Occurrence of Depression and Medical Illness in Primary Care Settings

  • 5% to 10% are estimated to suffer from depression and medical illnesses in primary care settings
  • 10% to 14% of those with non-psychiatric hospitalizations are estimated to have depression and medical illnesses
  • The more serious the medical illness, the higher likelihood that the patient may experience both depression and .medical illness
  • People who are depressed experience increased distress, more impairment in activities of daily living and limited ability to comply with treatment instructions and therefore their medical treatment is often compromised.

The Co-occurrence of Depression with Medical Illness Conditions

Heart Disease

Among patients who have had a heart attack, 40% – 65% have been clinically depressed.

  • Among patients who have coronary heart disease, but no heart attacks, 18% – 20% have suffered from depression and medical illness.
  • Patients experiencing clinical depression after a heart attack are 3 to 4 times more likely to die within six months after having a heart attack.
  • Both men and women with clinical depression have a higher risk of coronary artery disease but men have a higher risk of dying from it compared to women.


  • Of those surviving a stroke, 10% to 27% become clinically depressed
  • Post stroke depression typically lasts for approximately a year.
  • In addition to these patients, another 15% to 40% of those surviving a stroke display some of the symptoms of clinical depression within the first two months after having their stroke.
  • Stroke patients who report five or more symptoms of depression have over a 50% risk of dying due to a stroke in the following 29 years.


  • 25% of cancer patients also experience clinical depression.
  • Clinical depression can be mistaken as a side-effect of chemotherapy or of receiving corticosteroids which are legitimate treatments for cancer.
  • Cancer does cause weight and appetite loss, which are also symptoms of depression, along with insomnia and a lack of energy, also symptoms that go along with cancer.


  • 25% of those suffering from adult onset diabetes also have clinical depression.
  • Up to 70% of those suffering from complications of diabetes also experience depression.

Treatment for Depression and Medical Illness

Patients who are able to be treated for their co-occurring depression and medical illness may improve in their overall health as well as their specific medical condition. They are able to comply more reliably with their medical regimen and experience an improvement in their quality of life.

Over 80% of patients with clinical depression can be successfully treated using psychotherapy, medication or both.  However, not all patients with depression and medical illness respond well to treatment as usual and require an integrated care team that can address the impact of depression and medical illness.  Because our treatment for depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for patients with depression and medical illness relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and medical illness can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.