Lyme disease, Depression, and suicide are a tough reality. If you feel suicidal or a danger to yourself or those around you, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273 TALK (8255), or text “HOME” to 741741. Or call 911, or go to your nearest emergency room. YOU ARE NOT IN THIS FIGHT ALONE.
In this post I will discuss the connection between Lyme disease, depression, and suicide, as well as offer resources for when you feel like giving up.
Living with Lyme Disease Isn’t Easy
Living with Lyme disease is arduous and often debilitating. Friends, family, and our communities rarely understand the grimness of this complicated disease. Due to the lack of understanding, patients often feel abandoned by loved ones, and the medical community. In result, they often feel fear, loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, frustration, loss, grief, and discouragement. Patients, unfortunately, have to learn to live a very different life than they did previously. They are also forced to accept broken relationships, unachieved dreams and goals, loss of self, and lengthy treatment.
In reality, Lyme does not just affect your body physically. We are often told by loved ones and medical professionals that what we are feeling “isn’t real”, we “are just overstressed”, or “it’s all in our heads” or psychosomatic. However, neurological Lyme disease is real. It can affect your behavior and thoughts. It can generate feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and a sense of being a burden to those around them.
According to Global Lyme Alliance, Lyme disease and other tick borne illnesses are related to the cause of many previously unexplained suicides. They are also associated with immune-mediated metabolic changes resulting in psychiatric and other adverse symptoms. Moreover, Dr. Robert Bransfield has reported that an “estimated 1200 suicides take place each year in the US due to Lyme and associated diseases.” (Lyme, Depression, and Suicide, 2017)
Neurological Symptoms of Lyme
Due to the psychological effects, Lyme disease can cause anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia. PTSD, addictions, cognitive impairment, and violent tendencies are also possible. Patients often experience irregular moods, fatigue, sleep impairments, and sensory processing disorders. Paranoia, rage, hallucinations (both sound and visual), memory loss, and disorientation are also symptoms of neurological Lyme disease.
“Depression is the most common psychiatric syndrome associated with late stage Lyme disease” (Bransfield, 2017). Depression can range from moderate to severe. Feelings of being moody, and irritable are common. Inflammation, pain, economic loss, and an overall sense of doom, lead to the severity of the depression. (Hammond, 2019) You can learn more about Lyme disease symptoms here, https://chronicallyimperfect.com/what-is-lyme-disease-basic-info-on-lyme-disease/
Why Are We Seeing Suicide in Chronic Illness?
As mentioned before, Lyme disease is difficult to live with. Suffering from relentless fatigue, constant pain, cognitive issues, and ever changing symptoms cause a heavy burden on the patient. Treatment is a long process, usually taking months to years. Lyme and other tick borne diseases are not accepted by the mainstream medical community. Therefore, treatment is often not covered by insurance, resulting in patients having to pay for care out of pocket. The cost of treatment is tremendously high with no guarantee of remission. There are numerous methods for treatment and it may take time to find the right one for you.
As a result of declining health, patients are often unable to work and social lives become difficult to keep up with. Lack of understanding from friends and loves ones also makes coping with Lyme extremely tough. Patients are never certain how they are going to feel day to day, or even minute to minute, and are unable to do things they used to. Even simple tasks like brushing teeth, or buttoning a shirt may become difficult. Patients can lose their health, livelihoods, jobs, independance, relationships, and dignity. In addition, they must learn to mourn their old self.
Living with all of the above mentioned examples is a very heavy load for a patient to carry. From financial worries, declining health, and living with an under noticed disease, patients are often left feeling alone and isolated. This is a very dangerous place for someone to be.
Ways to Manage Depression
There is hope. Managing, and even overcoming depression is possible! Here are a few things you can do to help manage depression and improve your sense of being:
1. Find support.
First, and most important, find support. Finding comfort through support groups with other Lyme patients is very beneficial. If you can’t find a local group, or are unable to drive, there are plenty of online groups. Connecting with others who understand what you are going through makes the journey so much easier.
Talk with friends and family you know will listen to you. If you don’t feel comfortable or heard with those around you, then stick with the peer groups.
Seek professional help. Finding a therapist or counselor who is familiar with Lyme is ideal, but that’s not always locally feasible. Having a professional listen to you, can make a great impact. Understandably, money is often an issue, but there are free or reduced counseling centers available. Churches and local community resource centers may offer help, and or resources as well.
Relax your body, mind, and spirit. Practice breathing exercises and consider yoga or Qigong (pronounced chee-gong). Both are known to relax the body and support healing.
Listen to binaural beats. Learn more about those here, https://blog.mindvalley.com/what-are-binaural-beats/. There are binaural beats to help relax, sleep, heal, detox and more. Think of them as soothing spa music with an agenda!
Get in touch with your spiritual self. Spend time each day in prayer or meditation, whichever you are more drawn to. Prayer and meditation have both been found to have great physical benefits as well as emotional and mental benefits. (Dolan, 2016)
Allow yourself to feel. It’s ok if you are sad, or mourning who you used to be. It’s ok if you’re frustrated or discouraged. Give yourself time to process the different feelings and emotions that go along with the journey of healing. They are normal and part of the process. Then remind yourself that those feelings are temporary. There is hope, and there is healing. Give yourself the time it deserves to grow and restore.
Exercise has so many health benefits. It releases endorphins, lowers stress, decreases inflammation, aids sleep, improves mood, and encourages the body to detox. It’s something everyone with chronic illness can reap from! Low impact activities such as using light weights, swimming, walking, or jumping on a trampoline are great examples. Even if you are bed bound, make an effort to move your body. Move your arms and legs by bending, stretching, and moving them in circular motions. The point is to not stay sedentary.
4. Get Out.
Fresh air and sunlight are healing to the body and soul. Sunshine offers vitamin D, which most Lyme patients are deficient in. “Taking advantage of sunlight can help ease muscle aches and cramps, strengthen our bones and improve our moods. Psychological studies link time spent out in fresh air and sunshine to a greater sense of vitality” (Christian, 2020). In addition, spending 20 minutes outside before noon also may help reset your circadian rhythm, which is said to help improve quality of sleep.
5. Improve Your Evening Routine.
The importance of a good night’s sleep is crucial for healing, detoxing, improving mood, and handling stress. Once more, all crucial elements for Lyme patients! Here’s a few tips to revamp your nights:
- Avoid watching intense, stressful, or dramatic shows or movies before bedtime.
- Get on a sleep schedule. Make it a habit to go to bed around the same time each night.
- Sleep in a cool, dark room. Cover alarm clocks and other lights from electronics, and don’t sleep with the TV on.
- Consider a sound machine, white noise, or binaural beats to drown out random noises and create a soothing environment.
- Diffuse essential oils that induce relaxation such as lavender, sweet marjoram, geranium, sandalwood, jasmine, and clary sage. There are many more beneficial oils that help with relaxation and sleep. Find the one that works for you, or purchase a blend from a reputable therapeutic grade essential oil company.
6. Eat Well
Clean up your eating. Avoid inflammatory foods, remove refined sugars, processed foods, sodas, and junk foods from your diet. Instead, drink plenty of water, and eat clean, high nutrient foods. Studies have shown that diets high in refined foods, sweets, and high fats are at higher risk for depression. Lyme patients are at a high enough risk for that, so you certainly don’t need any extra help.
7. Avoid Negativity
Avoid negativity. When possible, remove yourself from toxic people. Avoid negative or violent movies and TV. Also, turn off the news. These negative outlets impact your mood. Instead, watch more comedies and light-hearted films or shows. We’ve all heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”. However, there’s actually science behind it! “A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease” (Laughter is the Best Medicine, 2019).
8. Think Positively
Don’t dwell on the negative thoughts. Even though dealing with Lyme disease can be grueling, life is not all bad. Even on the bad days, or in the middle of a flair, look for the good. Focus on the reasons to be grateful. List the things you are thankful for even if all you can think of is little things. Thankful for the random smile that was offered at the checkout line, or thankful for the unexpected phone call from a friend. Thankful you got out of bed, or for the sunset you got to witness, or thankful you brushed your teeth, or was able to shower today. There’s a hundred reasons to be grateful. If we focus on the positive things in our life, we will be better equipped to handle the negative things.
When To Seek Immediate Help
Please seek help immediately if you or someone you know is talking or thinking about suicide. Don’t wait. Seek immediate help if you or someone you know is
- Purposefully not taking medicines, or taking too much of potentially harmful ones.
- Inflicting self harm or causing personal pain or injury.
- Showing self neglect, like refusing to eat, or ignoring personal hygiene.
- Discussing suicidal plans.
- Suddenly giving away personal possessions.
- Visiting or calling to say goodbye to loved ones or friends.
- Isolating from family or friends more than usual.
- Speaking of having no reason to live or being a burden to others.
These are some major red flags and need to be taken seriously. If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these, please seek help. Help is anonymous. There is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. You are not alone and your life matters! Living with chronic illness is hard, but you do not have to carry the burden alone. There will be bad days, worse days and good days. Focus on the good days, and know that in time, the good days will begin to out frequent the bad ones.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 1 (800) 273 TALK or Text “HOME” to 741741 or online chat at http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx
- Hard of hearing https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/for-deaf-hard-of-hearing/
- Video relay Service – Dial 800-273-8255
- TTY – Dial 800-799-4889
- Voice/Caption Phone – Dial 800-273-8255
- Para Ayuda en Espanol- 1-888-628-9454
To Write Love on Her Arms
- Crisis Text Line- Text TWLOHA to 741741
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml This website has lots of information about mental illness and suicide prevention, including statistics, symptoms, treatment options, and risk factors. In addition, it provides resources that can help people understand the connection between suicide and other mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, and more.
Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS)
- http://www.sptsusa.org/ SPTS is a nonprofit organization created by parents whose teen children died by suicide. It’s dedicated to helping to reduce the problem of teen suicide by providing resources for teens, parents, and educators. Additionally, SPTS also pushes for legislation requiring teachers to undergo training in suicide prevention.
Anthem of Hope
- http://anthemofhope.org/ Anthem of Hope is a faith-centered organization dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide.
- https://samaritanshope.org/our-services/247-crisis-services/ Samaritans provides life saving suicide prevention services throughout Greater Boston, MetroWest, and across Massachusetts. Our services are free, confidential, and nonjudgmental.
- (877) 870-4673 (HOPE)
Maderis, Dr. Todd “Lyme Disease and Depression”. November 7, 2018 https://drtoddmaderis.com/
Cameron, Dr. Daniel. “Lyme Disease Patients Struggle with Depression”. Daniel Cameron, M.D., M.P.H. November 13, 2017 https://danielcameronmd.com/depression-common-lyme-disease-patients/
Weiss, Suzannah. “The worst Thing About Lyme Disease is What it Does to Your Mind”. Folks. July 12, 2020 https://folks.pillpack.com/the-worst-thing-about-lyme-disease-is-what-it-does-to-your-mind/
Hammond, MS, LMHC. Christine. “The Unfortunate Connection Between Lyme Disease and Mental Illness”. Psych Central. August 8, 2019 https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2019/07/the-unfortunate-connection-between-lyme-disease-and-mental-illness/
Cameron, Dr. Daniel. “Doctors Agree Lyme Disease Patients at-Risk for Suicide are Under-recognized Group” . Daniel Cameron M.D., M.P.H. https://danielcameronmd.com/doctors-agree-lyme-disease-patients-risk-suicide-recognized-group/
“Making Sense of Suicide and Chronic Lyme Disease”. AnuTherapy. July 10, 2017. https://anutherapy.com/blog/making-sense-of-suicide-chronic-lyme
Bransfield, Dr. Robert. “Lyme, Depression, and Suicide”. Mental Health and Illness. 2017 https://www.mentalhealthandillness.com/Articles/LymeDepressionAndSuicide.htm
Heckman, Kerry. “Lyme Disease is Causing a Mental Health Crisis: Here’s What to Do”. Global Lyme Alliance. May 10, 2019 https://globallymealliance.org/lyme-disease-causing-mental-health-crisis-heres/
Mindvalley. “What Are Binaural Beats And How They Work?” Mindvalley Blog. January 9, 2019 https://blog.mindvalley.com/what-are-binaural-beats/
Dolan, Doug. “The Importance of Daily Quiet Time for Prayer and Meditation”. Recovery in the Pines Addiction Recovery Center. January 12, 2016 http://recoveryinthepines.com/importance-daily-quiet-time-prayer-meditation/
Robinson, Lawrence, and Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. “Laughter is the Best Medicine”. HelpGuide. November 2019 https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm