Depression highest among those with chronic diseases

Kenyans who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, HIV, cancer and arthritis are two times more likely to also suffer from depression than those without the diseases. If undetected, this often aggravates the sickness.

Dr Chitayi Murabula, a psychiatrist, told the Saturday Nation that the occurrence of depression in Kenyans plagued with chronic conditions, is highest in those with arthritis at 17 per cent, heart disease (15 per cent) and diabetes (12 per cent) while HIV and cancer tie at eight per cent.

He spoke in Nairobi during the World Health Day celebrations on Friday. The theme for this year was depression.

Dr Murabula, who works at the Mathare Teaching and Referral Hospital, said failure to diagnose and treat, affects the survival of patients.

It also generates increased economic costs to the society due to lost productivity and increased cost of seeking treatment.

“If we don’t treat depression for diabetes patients then they will fair badly. For patients with heart disease, if it is treated, it improves their chances of survival. But if it isn’t, it increases their risk of dying by nearly five times,” he said.

The burden and emotional impact of managing a chronic disease like diabetes may lead to development of mental health problems such as depression, a 2015 study titled Symptoms of depression among patients attending a diabetes care clinic in rural western Kenya shows.

Further, people with depression may develop behavioural factors that lead to an overall lack of self-care, thereby, increasing the risk of developing diabetes and other chronic ailments.

People with depression lose 5.6 hours of productive time at work per week compared to 1.6 hours in non-depressed workers, which results in millions of lost workdays per year, studies show.

It is, however, worth noting that depression also stalks Kenyans who do not have the chronic illnesses.

Data from the Health ministry shows that two to three patients out of 10 of those who visit hospitals in the country will have a mental health, problem especially anxiety and depression.


Poor mental health is associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion and unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence, physical ill-health and human rights abuse.

But, such mental illness is likely to be misdiagnosed as another ailment such as malaria and thus delay treatment for the nearly 11.5 million Kenyans who suffer or will suffer from it.

Dr Simon Njuguna, head of the Mental Health Unit at the ministry, said the silent disease is “not a swelling or a wound, but it is just as painful and debilitating and no one is immune from it”.

Dr Murabula said: “Stress is what you experience daily but by the end of the day, you’re well. Depression is a mental illness, which is characterised by a low mood for two weeks and lack of interest in nearly all activities, lack of sleep, feeling worthless, hopeless and a feeling of guilt or even suicidal thoughts.”

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