A link exists between lupus and depression. Multiple factors may explain the link, such as the physical effects of the disease itself and the potential stress of living with a long-term health condition.

While depression is not uncommon among people with lupus, experiencing some sadness or grief is not necessarily a sign of the condition.

Depression is a persistent change in mood that can cause physical symptoms, such as changes in sleep or appetite, as well as a loss of interest in doing things a person usually enjoys.

Keep reading to learn more about lupus and depression, including the nature of the link, symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and coping practices.

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According to the Lupus Foundation of America, when lupus affects certain organs — such as the brain, kidneys, or heart — it can cause depression.

However, lupus can also contribute to depression in other ways. A person who has lupus may experience:

  • grief for the life they lived before their diagnosis
  • anxiety about when flare-ups will occur
  • ongoing stress due to the impact of living with a long-term health condition

Any of these could potentially contribute to or worsen mood changes.

Additionally, some lupus medications — such as prednisone (Rayos) at doses higher than 20 milligrams — may cause a low mood as a side effect.

Depression is a mental health condition that causes a persistent low mood lasting longer than a few weeks. Another criterion for the diagnosis is that symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Some of the symptoms of depression can be similar to those of lupus, making it difficult to tell the conditions apart in some cases. One distinct symptom of depression is reduced interest in activities that a person used to enjoy, such as hobbies or spending time with friends.

Below are some other possible symptoms of depression:

  • persistent sadness, guilt, anger, or irritability
  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • crying, often without a clear reason
  • trouble concentrating or remembering
  • difficulty making decisions
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • lack of energy
  • appetite changes that lead to weight gain or weight loss
  • reduced sexual interest, sexual performance, or both
  • recurring thoughts of death or suicide

In a 2020 analysis, researchers explored how depression in lupus can affect different aspects of life. They found that, compared with people with lupus who did not have depression, those with depression scored significantly lower in measures of:

  • tiredness
  • sleep problems
  • satisfaction in social activities and social roles
  • negative psychosocial impact of illness

According to research from 2022, the following factors may increase the risk of depression in lupus:

  • Pain: A number of studies indicate that severe pain in lupus has a connection to depression and lower quality of life.
  • Impaired ability to think: The link between cognitive dysfunction and depression is bidirectional, meaning one influences the other. Impaired cognitive ability can contribute to depression, and depression frequently hinders cognitive functions, resulting in reduced memory, concentration, and problem-solving skills. These cognitive problems may stem from the inflammatory effects of lupus or from lupus medications.
  • Activity of lupus: Lupus has flares and periods of remission, and some people have more intense flares than others. The more intense the activity of lupus, the greater risk it may pose for depression.

Depression treatment can involve therapy, medications, and additional support in managing symptoms.

Symptom management

If lupus could be affecting a person’s brain, a doctor may suggest changing their medications or dosages to control inflammation.

If lupus is not affecting the brain but other symptoms are significantly affecting a person’s mood, better symptom management may help. Treatment may be able to help reduce:

  • pain
  • fatigue
  • sleep disturbances
  • infections, which can cause flare-ups

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can help a person understand and process their feelings. It can also:

  • teach healthy coping skills
  • help people gain new perspectives or ways of thinking
  • support people in achieving their goals or adjusting to life after a diagnosis

There are many types of therapy to choose from. People can look for a therapist who has experience treating individuals with chronic health conditions.

Medications

If depression is moderate to severe or it recurs, doctors may recommend medication.

Various types of antidepressants have a mood-lifting effect, but they typically take several days or weeks to start working. Once they do, treatment usually lasts 4–9 months.

These drugs can have side effects, so a person should discuss the benefits and risks with their doctor.

The following may help a person cope with depression:

  • Practicing self-compassion: It can be easy to blame oneself or one’s body for chronic conditions. This can make it harder to find hope or feel motivated. Self-compassion may help with this. There is some evidence that self-compassion can improve a variety of mental health conditions and reduce distress in people with chronic illnesses.
  • Engaging in relaxation techniques: Regular relaxation may help relieve mild to moderate depression. People can try different relaxation techniques to find what works for them.
  • Getting regular exercise: Exercise can help with sleep and elevate mood. If symptoms make exercise difficult, a person may want to speak with a doctor or physical therapist to find ways to manage this.
  • Seeking support from others: This involves spending time with family, friends, or support groups.

Anyone who is concerned about signs of depression in themselves or someone else should seek help from a doctor, mental health professional, or support organization.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

Was this helpful?

There is a link between lupus and depression. Research indicates that the prevalence of depression among people with lupus is around 35%.

The link may stem from several factors, such as the physical effects of lupus and the multiple ongoing challenges of living with a chronic condition. A person with depression may feel persistently down, hopeless, or worthless.

Managing lupus symptoms that negatively affect quality of life and treating depression via psychotherapy or medication can help. A person can speak with a doctor or mental health professional for support.