Breaking the Emotional Silence of Ulcerative Colitis

Dealing with any chronic condition can be an emotional roller coaster. But when the condition involves body parts that people are afraid to discuss in public, like ulcerative colitis (UC), those emotional issues may get silenced - making them more difficult to manage.

"Depression is very common in people with ulcerative colitis," says Frank J. Sileo, Ph.D., a Ridgewood, N.J.-based psychologist who works closely with the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). "People with the disease are dealing with a chronic, unpredictable illness that is out of their control and that impacts their work, academics, family, intimate relationships and other areas of their lives," he says. "The result is they may feel a sense of helplessness and confusion." Here are some strategies that can help.

  • Tell your doctor. If you're feeling emotionally overwhelmed, isolated or saddened by your ulcerative colitis, your doctor can recommend a therapist who has experience counseling people with UC, or in some cases, may prescribe an antidepressant medication.
  • Seek support. Look for a UC support group in your area. Talking with other people who are experiencing the same symptoms can make you feel less alone. A good place to start is by logging onto the Web site of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and finding the chapter nearest you.
  • Educate yourself. Learning as much as you can about the illness can help you gain a sense of control over it. Good sources of information on UC include the CCFA's Information Resource Center, the American Gastroenterological Association and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  • Teach loved ones. "By educating others about your disease, you can give them a better understanding about what you're going through and prevent them from thinking that you're just stressed out or it's all in your head," says Dr. Sileo. "That can help them learn how to support you better."
  • Live in the moment. Mindfulness training - a form of meditation that helps you find joy in everyday things and focus on single tasks -  has been shown to help reduce anxiety and depression in people with other chronic diseases. To find a mindfulness training center in your own area, log onto the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Web site. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago are also teaching an eight-week mind-body course to people who have UC. Although the study is ongoing, researchers are hoping that this mind-body program may help reduce rates of flare-ups in UC patients. If you live in the Chicago area and would like to participate in the study, email Mary_Marshall@Rush.edu.

Reviewed by: Vikram Tarugu, M.D.

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