Understanding the “Invisible” Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

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Dawn RussoTo begin the year, we introduce Dawn Russo, Senior Program Manager for the National MS Society. Dawn will be sharing her thoughts about how to support people with MS beyond their physical needs.

There are many challenges to living with a chronic illness, but the “invisible” symptoms that a person with multiple sclerosis may face can be uniquely challenging. Invisible symptoms can include pain, fatigue, cognition, bladder problems, numbness, etc. Without specifically sharing the details of these symptoms, friends and family may be unaware of the impact they have on a person’s daily life.

This is true of one of the common symptoms of MS: depression. Studies show that the MS population has a higher prevalence of depression than the general population. Unlike the physical presence of a wheelchair, depression is not immediately identifiable and people may do their best to hide this symptom. Unless someone tells you about the challenges they are facing due to depression, this struggle may go unrecognized.

Causes For Depression

MS can progress differently in different people and not knowing what the future may hold can make it difficult to cope. In addition, the losses that people face as the disease progresses can be particularly challenging, such as leaving a career, giving up certain activities, changes in relationships, etc.

Depression can be a direct result of the disease as well. MS is a disease of the central nervous system, and as the myelin that protects the nerve fibers is attacked, parts of the brain that control our emotional responses can change. Depression can also be a side effect from medications.

What to do about it

If you suspect that you or someone you know is struggling with depression, there are steps to take. A mental health professional can help to identify if those feelings are true depression and what treatment options are available. The National MS Society has information on our website and in print. We have support groups throughout our chapter area and can provide referrals to professionals with experience working with people with MS.

Just because we can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And sometimes what we can’t see can be the hardest to deal with. Depression, like other invisible symptoms, can impact your everyday life and activities. It can also impact your family, friends and caregivers. Through my role at the Chapter, I speak with many people who have MS or who have loved ones with MS. The impact of depression can be significant and reduce quality-of-life.It can be hard admitting that depression is real, that you need help, and seeking help.

But help is available. You just want to be sure to have the conversation if needed.

One of our future blogs will discuss the impact of invisible symptoms on caregivers. Next week, we’ll hear from Alex about his experience with MS. Hope you will join us then!

For more information about Depression, please visit the National MS Society website.

For information about emotional support programs available through the Greater New England Chapter, please visit our website.

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