Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Depression can cause a whole host of problems beyond the regular array of depression symptoms.
Some of these problems aren’t even recognized by doctors; maybe its because they’ve never been depressed themselves or maybe its because these problems haven’t been linked to depression before now.
What Are The Main Problems Depression Can Cause? A Wide Range Of Physical Symptoms.
Depression can lead to emotional distress but also change how your brain contributes to a wide range of physical symptoms that affect everything from your heart to your immune system.
It doesn’t just cause physical symptoms; it can also increase the risk for certain physical illnesses or conditions. Conversely, some illnesses can actually trigger depression.
Here These are a few of the most common physical symptoms of depression:
Increased aches and pains, which occurs in about two out of three people with depression.
Decreased interest in sex
Insomnia, lack of deep sleep, or oversleeping.
Changes in the brain have an effect on many of the body's systems including these symptoms of depression.
For example, an abnormal functioning of the way the brain sends messengers i.e. neurotransmitters such as serotonin, can seriously alter your pain threshold. This may result in becoming more sensitive to pain and particularly back pain.
A lack of serotonin can also affect our sleep and our sex drive with Studies showing that 45% of people with depression have lower sex drives.
However, doctors and other professionals often overlook the physical symptoms of depression. Yet sleep problems alongside fatigue and worries about health are reliable indicators of depression, especially in older adults.
It Increases Our Risk of Physical Illness
Depression increases our risk of a number of illnesses in five different ways:
Increases levels of stress hormones such as cortisol or adrenaline
Affects the immune system making it harder for our bodies to fight infection
Vaccinations like the shingles vaccine are be less effective in some adults with depression
Depression is linked to an increase risk of heart disease
An increased risk of substance abuse
The Vicious Cycle of Depression & Illnesses
Many of the physical changes caused by depression like lack of deep sleep, will in turn weaken the immune system. Consequently, this makes existing illnesses worse.
Subsequently, when existing illnesses get worse, this can trigger or worsen depression.
The ensuing vicious cycle is tough to break without treatment for both depression and the illness.
Many serious illnesses that concur with depression include:
Coronary artery disease
Depression can increase the risk of some of these diseases, but its not always the case. There’s no evidence to support the idea that depression leads to cancer, although the two often exist together.
At the same time, depression isn’t an inevitable result of serious diseases such as cancer and HIV, or that it can't be managed.
If you become ill, how does depression influence the course of the illness?
Firstly, you are more likely to develop complications because, perhaps, depression magnifies physical changes in your brain and body.
For example, if you have heart disease, the higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol can make it harder for your body repair.
Secondly, depression may make it more difficult to follow instructions, stick with a regime like taking medication. And people with major depression who are recovering from serious illnesses can have a more difficult time making health care choices.
Thirdly, physical pain can also complicate the depression in a way that’s hard to describe but because depression makes us focus on the negative, it can make the pain seem worse. And, people with chronic pain tend to have worse depression outcomes.
And finally, results have also shown that people with major depression who are recovering from strokes or heart attacks have a more difficult time making good choices about their health care. People also find it more difficult to follow the doctor's instructions and to cope with the challenges their illness presents.
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Inequalities In Life Expectancy
The other side of the physical/depression challenge is that people with severe depression are at much higher risk of a lower life expectancy.
For example, people with bipolar disorder can expect to live 15 to 20 years below that of the general population. This is due to raised rates of heart disease as well as other physical health conditions[i].
Other specific health issues also high among people with depression are eating disorders, personality disorders, drug or alcohol use disorders or anxiety.
Other Problems That Depression Can Cause
Of course, it’s not just physical problems is that depression can cause, there are also a whole array of other problems. Some examples are:
Depression can cause a breakdown in love relationships as the pressure of the depression is too to bear for a couple. It can also affect friendships because when that depressed friend becomes isolated they are hard to reach and this can fracture the friendship.
Depression also affects your abilities as a parent. Giving to and nurturing a child can seem impossible when you are depressed. You can barely take care of yourself let alone children.
Depression causes you to not take care of yourself physically.
You may be unable to keep yourself clean or you may stop brushing your hair or wearing clean clothes. The shame then stops you from connecting with other people as your physical well-being takes its toll.
Depression can also foster negative thinking and this can lead to suicidal thoughts. When you are depressed and have suicidal thoughts, these thoughts can lead you down a dark road when you start thinking that other people would be better off without you. At this point it is important to get help or at least start talking to someone.
What Depression Can Cause And How To Treat It With A “2-for-1” Approach
The good news is that by treating depression we may also be treating our overall health and this is called a "two-for-one" approach!
Some research, for example, suggests that certain depression medications together with may help improve glycaemic control, which is necessary in managing diabetes.
So How Do You Fully Recover From Depression?
Our physical and emotional health performs a delicate dance, which greatly affect each other. The first step maybe to discuss both with your doctor. The symptoms of depression and together with physical medical conditions may overlap.
So, it's important to discuss all the symptoms, including physical ones, with your doctor. This will help both you and your doctor find out out what is causing the physical symptoms, the depression, and another disease and where they’re maybe an overlap.
Also, make sure you look at the side effects of any medication you’re taking because some can cause symptoms of depression. Be sure to discuss these medications with your doctor because they may be able to offer different medications without depressive side effects.
Aside from that, there are many things you can do to help the depression have less effect on you including:
Therapy / counselling
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Please remember I am not a doctor. If you have any medical questions, my advice is always to see your doctor.
[i]Laursenet al 2014; Miller and Bauer 2014