Reports state up to 66% of people with late Lyme disease experience depression. This number is likely misrepresented because so many cases of Lyme disease go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. One reason is that the symptoms of Lyme disease mimic or overlap other illnesses.
Lyme disease can lead to psychiatric symptoms related to disorders other than depression, like anxiety, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.
Lyme disease has a significant effect on a person’s mental health. It’s crucial for you, your doctors, and mental health professionals to recognize and connect symptoms to Lyme disease. Lyme disease is more than a physical disorder.
Lyme Disease and Mental Health
One study of seven million people for 22 years evaluated the connection between Lyme disease and mental health. They excluded those who had a mental health disorder before getting Lyme disease. The results were alarming.
Compared to those without Lyme disease, 42% of those with Lyme had depression and bipolar disorder incidences. Also, there was a 75% higher death by a suicide rate of those with Lyme disease.
It is essential to understand how Lyme disease affects mental health.
Causes of Lyme Depression and Other Mental Health Issues
Researchers cannot narrow down one specific link between Lyme disease and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The reason is that there are several reasons, and when one or all occur, mental health suffers.
Lyme disease is a blood infection that triggers a constant state of inflammation in the body. Your immune system activates inflammation to fight off bacterial infections. Only Lyme bacteria are smart and know how to hide and go undetected. This causes your immune system to stay activated, to stay inflamed.
Inflammation can travel to your nervous system and brain, affecting the neurotransmitters like serotonin that are linked to depression and anxiety.
Lyme disease produces many negative physical symptoms, like joint swelling and pain. It also creates headaches, flu-like symptoms, stiff neck, and extreme fatigue. When you experience these physical symptoms, you feel bad. How you feel physically influences how you feel mentally. It would be rare to meet a person with migraines to be happy and cheerful at the same time. Pain leads to depressive symptoms.
Ticks that transmit Lyme bacteria can also transmit other infections. Numerous coinfections may accompany Lyme disease, all of which can lead to negative mental health symptoms. Most primary care physicians do not know to test for co-infections to Lyme disease. Sadly, even if they did know, they aren’t equipped with the tools to determine if a co-infection exists.
Symptoms of Lyme Depression and Other Mental Health Disorders
Because Lyme disease symptoms progress over time, you may not realize it has caused depression or other mental illnesses. It’s essential to keep track of your symptoms and their intensity so you can prevent a mental health crisis.
The following symptoms can range from mild to severe, but all should be taken seriously.
- Mood swings or trouble regulating emotions
- Lack of energy
- Concentration difficulties
- Short-term memory loss
- Increased anxiety or panic attacks, phobias, or paranoia
- Hopeless feeling
- Isolation from friends and family
- Desire to sleep or stay in bed to avoid responsibilities
- No longer participating in activities you once enjoyed
- Thoughts of suicide
- Sleep disorders, like insomnia or hypersomnia
- Changes in weight, either unexpected weight gain or weight loss
- Digestive problems
Less common symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders include compulsive behaviors, increased use of drugs or alcohol, daydreaming, clumsiness or falling a lot, and poor hygiene.
Treating the symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders associated with Lyme disease means treating both the Lyme infection and mental health.
Treatments for Lyme Depression and Other Mental Health Disorders
Treating Lyme disease symptoms alone will not eliminate symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Although the Lyme infection triggered mental health problems, not all your symptoms will go away by treating only Lyme. They must be treated separately for best results.
Treatment of any kind should begin with an evaluation from a Lyme Literate doctor, a specialist in Lyme disease, and advanced therapies. Your symptoms, along with advanced testing, will be used to develop a treatment plan.
Advanced treatments for Lyme disease and its coinfections may include IV antibiotic therapies, which bypass the digestive system and send the antibiotics directly to the place where Lyme bacteria live, in your blood. Therapeutic apheresis is a process that extracts your infected blood or plasma and replaces it with donated healthy blood or plasma.
Additional treatments for Lyme disease include hyperthermia, biofilm eradication, oxidative medicine, detox, antioxidant therapies, and immune modulation.
Mental Health Treatments
Treatments for mental health disorders often include antidepressants or antianxiety medications. But there are many other natural treatments to explore that boost serotonin levels in the brain. Counseling, herbals, and lifestyle changes are a combination that provides relief of symptoms related to Lyme depression.
Psychotherapy with an individual counselor or attending a support group for people with Lyme disease can significantly boost mental health. Making changes to your lifestyle can also help ease symptoms. What you eat and drink do affect how you feel physically and mentally.
A necessary lifestyle change is to reduce the amount of sugar and carbohydrates you consume. Exercising, even in small increments, can boost endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers. So, not only do you ease physical symptoms, you feel better mentally.
Allowing yourself to get massages, physical therapy, acupuncture, or acupressure can significantly improve Lyme depression symptoms. You can also implement relaxation and stress-management techniques that can help you cope. Work with a naturopath to discover herbals that can reduce inflammation in the body. Consider neuro therapies that can retrain your brain to heal. It’s often called neuroplasticity.
Finally, take time to meditate, pray, and make yourself a priority. Take care of yourself so you can live a life without the interference of Lyme and mental health symptoms. You deserve it!
Reviewed by Dr. Omar Morales, MD