Living with Crohn’s disease can increase a person’s risk of developing depression or other mental health conditions, but no evidence suggests depression can cause Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the other main type being ulcerative colitis. As the name suggests, it is an inflammatory, chronic disease with periods of remission and flares.

The inflammatory condition can affect any part of a person’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract from the mouth to the anus and any area in between.

People living with Crohn’s disease have an elevated risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression. While evidence suggests that depression does not directly cause Crohn’s disease, living with both conditions can worsen each one.

This article explores how Crohn’s and depression relate, symptoms of depression to look out for, coping with depression, and outlook.

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The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation notes that rates of depression and anxiety are higher among people living with IBD compared to other illnesses and the general population. Despite this correlation, they also point out that depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions cannot cause Crohn’s disease.

However, living with a chronic illness such as Crohn’s can increase the risk of developing depression or other mental health conditions. A 2017 expert review helped clarify the relationship between chronic illnesses such as IBD and depression.

In their study, researchers noted that inflammation can cause depression, and depression can cause inflammation.

A 2016 study ound that people with depression had a higher hospitalization rate and overall disease severity. One of the authors of this study pointed out that the evidence did not suggest depression caused Crohn’s disease but that it can make symptoms worse.

This relationship has led researchers to suggest that doctors take additional steps to screen for depression in the people under their care.

In a 2021 study, researchers noted that the likelihood of people living with Crohn’s developing depression justifies yearly visits to a psychologist for assessment. Early recognition of depression or other mental health disorders during treatment for Crohn’s may help improve a person’s overall outcome and help reduce their overall cost of care.

It is not unusual that a person living with Crohn’s disease may experience feelings of sadness from time to time. These occasional, passing symptoms may be typical. However, a person should contact a healthcare professional if they experience at least 5 of the following symptoms of depression for more than 2 weeks:

  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities, including hobbies or sex
  • persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or “emptiness”
  • fatigue, feeling slow or sluggish, or decreased energy
  • feelings of hopelessness or negativity
  • feeling worthless, guilty, or helpless
  • early-morning awakening or oversleeping
  • restlessness
  • insomnia
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • irritability
  • changes in appetite causing weight loss or gain

Some symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, insomnia, and changes in weight and appetite, are also symptoms of Crohn’s.

Researchers have noted that treating depression can improve a person’s symptoms and help reduce the overall costs associated with care.

In some cases, traditional treatment of depression, such as antidepressants, may also help with Crohn’s disease by improving quality of life, reducing recurrences and activity, and improving treatment adherence. A doctor may prescribe medications directly or recommend a person see a mental health professional for depression medications.

Another effective form of depression treatment involves cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). In this approach, a person works with a therapist to identify, challenge, and change negative thoughts and behaviors that can contribute to depression.

Some therapists specialize in working with patients with IBD. A person can use an online directory such as this one from the Rome Foundation to find a specialist.

Evidence suggests that effectively treating both depression and Crohn’s disease can help:

  • improve a person’s quality of life
  • reduce disease severity
  • reduce overall costs associated with care
  • help prevent more invasive interventions, such as surgery
  • decrease the likelihood of recurrence

As a result, healthcare professionals should regularly screen the people they work with for signs of depression and recommend appropriate treatment options. People living with Crohn’s should talk with their doctor if they experience symptoms of depression.

Depression and Crohn’s disease often occur together, and each can make the other condition worse. Doctors working with people with Crohn’s disease should regularly screen them for signs of depression.

Identifying depression and providing treatment can help improve a person’s overall outlook and quality of life.