Depression, anxiety and other mood changes are more common in people with MS than in the general population—in part as a reaction to the challenges of a chronic illness, but also because of changes in the brain and in the immune system that are a part of MS. Depression and anxiety are different from stress, grief and adjustment to changes that MS can bring. Working with a skilled professional can help you manage your mood.
Feelings of grief and loss are common among family members also, and depression is common among caregivers. Caregivers and other family members can often benefit from professional emotional support as well as connecting with resources specific to caregiver needs. Providers found in the caregiver and family support category help with a variety of needs, including physical, emotional, financial, housing, legal and other caregiver services.
Typical providers found in the mental health resource category include psychologists, social workers, and counselors, including pastoral counselors. Generally, a psychologist holds a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and social workers and counselors will hold at least Bachelor level degrees in their respective fields. Not all the providers found in the mental health category show their credentials, so ask what degrees or licensure they hold.
Questions and considerations when selecting a provider or a clinic:
- How long has the professional been in practice?
- Are they licensed?
- Do they have experience in working with people living with MS or other chronic illnesses?
- Do they have experience in working with the issues with which you are seeking help? (e.g., depression, anxiety, communication , career, child rearing, etc.)
- Do they offer the services you want? (e.g., individual counseling, couples or marriage counseling, family counseling, work with children or adolescents)
- Does the professional keep up to date in their knowledge of MS or other chronic illnesses?
- Does insurance cover these services and if so, does the professional take your insurance? If the professional does not take your insurance, do they have a sliding scale?
- If you need a referral for other services, for example for medication, can they refer you to others with the appropriate expertise and prescribing authority?
- Is the office accessible?
Things to pay attention to during your first session:
- Do you feel comfortable being open with this professional? Does the professional use any specific therapeutic methods (for example cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy)? Do they explain that method well and how they believe it will help you? Does their recommendation feel like a good fit for you?
- What is the professional’s cancellation policy?
- Will the professional have sessions on the telephone, videoconferencing or chat? Do they offer home visits? Under what circumstances?
Considerations for caregiver and family member:
- What type of services do I need to help me in caring for my loved one?
- What information do I need to understand my loved ones’ needs?
- Am I feeling stressed or burned out?
- Am I neglecting my own health and self-care?
- What support groups are available?
Other strategies to support emotional well-being include:
- Many people find personal meaning through spiritual practice and/or religious beliefs so you can become and stay centered and in touch with your inner self.
- Develop strategies to help manage stress, for example meditation, relaxation exercises, individual or team sports, journaling, hobbies, time with family and friends.
Emotional support for people with MS and caregivers can also be found through the National MS Society’s peer-led self-help groups. Locate a group near you.