Ask the Expert – Depression

Featuring Barry A. Hendin, MD
MSAA’s Chief Medical Officer

Headshot of doctor Barry Hendin, chief medical officer for MSAA
Barry Hendin, MD

Question: How does psychological therapy, either alone or in conjunction with medication, make a difference for someone with MS who is experiencing depression?

Answer: This question highlights the fact that there is more than one approach to treating psychological problems. Anyone may experience depression, but this symptom is more common in people with MS. Much of this is biologically determined, meaning that depression in MS is often caused by changes in the central nervous system (CNS), but we’re also aware that situational problems may occur in anyone’s life, including those with MS.

Antidepressant medications from a psychiatrist (or other appropriate clinician) can be very helpful for the biological aspects of depression. But for many people, an additional benefit may be derived from psychotherapy or “talk therapy” with a psychologist or counselor. This psychological support can help individuals to develop strategies to navigate complex situational issues. 

Beyond these professional interventions, there are several things that people with MS are able to do independently. For many, exercise can reduce depression. For others, mindfulness, yoga, or meditation may be helpful. And for everyone, focusing on the other aspects of wellness, which include maintaining a healthy diet and healthy social relationships, can’t be emphasized enough!

Please note that anxiety may occur along with depression and is also more common in the MS population. Many of the approaches to treating depression are also useful in reducing anxiety, but as with depression, this symptom should be diagnosed by a professional and treated accordingly.

Barry A. Hendin, MD is a neurologist and Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Arizona. He is also Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Banner University Medical Center and Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Arizona Medical School.

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