The Link Between Lupus and Depression

If you have lupus, you are well aware of how challenging it can be to manage your health in addition to the rest of your life. As a result, you might feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed.

An important question to investigate is whether these challenges cause depression or if lupus affects the brain and causes depression symptoms.

Woman sitting on the floor looking away from camera
Gary John Norman / Getty Images

The Impact of Lupus on Your Life

In 2011, a study supported what people in the lupus community already knew—that the challenges of living with lupus can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. While the results may seem obvious to you, a study like this is helpful in providing the world with proof of what people with lupus have been saying for a long time.

As part of the study, nearly 380 people with lupus were surveyed. Many shared that, for them, the biggest contributors to depression and anxiety are caused by two factors—changes in appearance and the physical impact of the disease, primarily joint and muscle pain. Can you relate?

Hair loss and weight gain were reported to be the most distressing changes in appearance.

Hair loss can be a lupus symptom, or it can be caused by scarring due to lupus or caused by certain medication used to treat lupus, such as cyclophosphamide.

Many study participants also shared that physical limitations, like pain, cause distress because the limitations prevent people from participating in activities or completing tasks.

They reported that lupus flares also contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. And so do challenges with obtaining health insurance or keeping a job.

It's easy to see how all of these experiences can cause feelings of lowered self-esteem, frustration, fear, and sadness, and how these feelings can lead to depression and anxiety.

Other Ways Lupus Is Linked to Depression

On the other hand, lupus can affect the brain and cause depression and other psychiatric symptoms.

It's also possible that a person already had depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition before the onset of lupus. For some, the challenges lupus brings can worsen mental health symptoms that were already there.

It might be hard to pinpoint the cause of mental health symptoms, but it's important to speak with your doctor about what you're going through.

If your rheumatologist suspects that lupus is affecting your brain, they need to prescribe you medication to manage lupus. If you or they believe that your symptoms are caused by the challenges of living with lupus, they will discuss other treatment options for you like talk therapy (also referred to as psychotherapy).

When Depression Becomes Dangerous

If depression is becoming life-threatening for you and you are thinking of suicide or injuring yourself, please reach out for help right away. Call a suicide hotline, like this one (based in the U.S.), 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Call any one of your doctors, especially your therapist or psychiatrist if you have one. Speak to a trusted friend or family member and ask them to take you to a hospital.

If you are alone, bring yourself to an emergency room, or call 9-1-1 (in the U.S.) or the emergency number in your area.

If you are afraid of being held in a hospital for being suicidal, know that just like hospitals keep people in a medical crisis until they are safe, the main concern for someone who is suicidal is their safety. Your well-being is the number one priority.

When You Need Support and Help for Depression

Despite the depression, anxiety, pain, or appearance changes, life with lupus is not hopeless. For example, in the study mentioned above, the researchers found that the more a person felt in control of their life, the less depressed or anxious they felt.

The first step to increasing the sense of control you have over your life is to figure out what you actually have control over. For example, while you cannot control that you have lupus, you have some control over how you manage the disease. The more coping techniques you learn and practice, the higher your sense of control. First, start with the basics—keep your medical appointments, take your medication as prescribed, and find support for lupus.

Just like seeing a medical doctor is important if you have lupus, if you are experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms, it's important to seek support. Other than telling your rheumatologist about your mental health symptoms, consider seeing a psychotherapist. They will listen to you, without judgment, and will help you find ways to cope.

No matter what you do, don't keep your experiences with depression or anxiety to yourself. There is hope and there is help. There are people who want to listen to you about what you've been going through. People in the lupus and chronic illness community will remind you that hope exists. They are excellent guides and will help you learn how to live your best life with lupus. Finding support could be one of the best choices you make.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.