What the Heck is Post Flu Depression?

As I write this, America is in the grips of a really nasty flu season.  I also happen to have the flu, too.  Flu season usually lasts from November to March, but sometimes I think it really lasts year ’round.  That’s just based on how I feel.  I don’t have any medical studies to back me up on that one.

I do have endogenous recurring depression and post traumatic stress disorder (and I think one of my docs may have diagnosed me with “depression and anxiety” but I have the flu and can’t remember my last psych visit, so bear with me.)

But I have been reading about something called “post flu depression.”  This is not an established medical phenomenon.  It’s only based on anecdotal evidence.  Apparently, after a patient gets over the flu, he or she gets depressed.  The depression does not occur because the flu is over.  It may not have anything to do with the flu.

There’s something about the flu which magnifies any kind of misery you have — physical, emotional or psychological.  If you’re like me, I can’t get comfortable because of my body aches, which makes it difficult to sleep.  Writing this blog post is very difficult for me but not as difficult as trying to take a nap. That’s how bad it feels.  My depression and PSTD does get worse when I have the flu.  However, that’s normal for me.

Depression: A Practitioner’s Guide to Comparative Treatments (Springer Publishing Company; 2007) contains a really good example of a typical (but fictional) patient with post flu depression.  The unfortunately named fictional patient Dick (OK, maybe doctors do have a sense of humor) has money troubles.  Then, he gets the flu at the same time his business enters into “tricky business negotiations”.  When the flu is over, Dick “lost interest in anything except staying in bed.”   Having the flu crystallized Dick’s feelings of helplessness and futility. Dick was diagnosed with depression.  Yes — even fictional characters can get depression.

ANYWAY, if you have not been diagnosed with a depressive disorder and feel really depressed after getting over the flu, you are not going crazy.  You’ve been through a physical ordeal and you are tired.  Post flu depression usually goes away on its own.  However, if it doesn’t go away after two weeks, call your doctor.

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