Can Depression make you sick? Can Depression make you sick?

Can Depression Make You Sick? 10 Facts to Know

WHO defines depression as a “mental illness” that more than 5% of the current adult population experience. An estimated 3.8% of the population experience depression, including 5% of the adult household population (4% among men and 6% among women), and 5.7% of adults older than 60 years.

Now, many people wonder – can depression make you sick? Read on to learn about this!

1. Introduction

 Approximately 280 million people in the world have depression. It extends beyond life’s regular ups and downs and can impair a person’s capacity to function in daily life.

Depression1 has an impact on one’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and even physical health2. It is a complex and often persistent mental health disorder3, not just a passing feeling of being sad or gloomy.

1.1. Some Common Depression Symptoms:

Some common depression symptoms are:

  • serious mood swings4,
  • depressed mood,
  • lack of interest used to enjoy in the past,
  • self-infliction,
  • low self-esteem,
  • hopelessness
  • thoughts of self-harm,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • feelings of worthlessness and guilt.

Often a depressed person can feel low on energy, lack appetite, and suffer from insomnia which can affect one’s physiological health badly, affecting essential bodily functions.

When appetite and sleep patterns are disrupted, eating habits, weight, and sleep quality are significantly changed. Fatigue and lack of energy become pervasive, often making even simple tasks daunting.

1.2. Possible Causes of Depression?

While there is no set cause of depression, there are some common occurrences that can trigger depression as a response; it can arise from grief, trauma, loss of a loved one, stress, failure, or academic or work pressure.

The causes and symptoms of depression vary from person to person; what may seem like a minor inconvenience might affect someone else gravely. 

2. Understanding the Mind-Body Connection

2.1. Depression: Physical and Emotional Symptoms

The cognitive aspects of depression are marked by difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and thinking clearly. Thought processes can feel sluggish and unclear, contributing to the overall sense of mental burden.

Once a person develops a negative self-image and is surrounded by persistent feelings of worthlessness, guilt, self-blame, constant sadness, and repressive thoughts, even something as regular as having meals or taking showers looks like too much work.

Depression fatigue makes it very difficult to continue normally with one’s daily routine. These little details add up to severe issues, both physical and emotional.

To understand this better, let’s dive into the long-term effects of depression and answer all the questions you have.

Every area of a person’s everyday life can be profoundly impacted by depression, including their emotional well-being, cognitive abilities, health, and general quality of life.

Understanding the link between how your mental health affects your physical health is very important. The mind-body connection is the complicated interplay between psychological well-being and physical health.

This link is especially significant in the case of both depression and anxiety.

The mind-body connection plays a crucial role in understanding how depression’s emotional toll can lead to various physical symptoms and behavioral changes. 

Emotional suffering can alter pain perception5, activating the body’s stress response6 and resulting in the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.

Prolonged stress hormone activation caused by persistent depression can damage the immune system, making individuals more vulnerable to infections and diseases.

2.2. How Is Depression Affecting Your Body? Can It Make You Sick?

The one question that often bothers and prevails through the mind when talking about depressive symptoms is if depression can make you sick, and if so, how?

Scientists have discovered that mental distress can cause physical symptoms like muscle pain as well.

Recent research shows that physical and emotional pain aren’t as disconnected as previously thought; both are linked to changes in the prefrontal cortex and cingulate cortex. The mind-body connection is bidirectional.

Physical symptoms, such as chronic pain7 or hormonal imbalances, can also contribute to the development or exacerbation of depression. Inflammation can also impact neurotransmitter levels in the brain, contributing to depressive symptoms.

Chronic muscle aches and joint pain, for instance, can amplify feelings of sadness and hopelessness, creating a cycle of physical and emotional distress.

3. Can Depression Make You Sick?

Suffering mentally for a prolonged period, as it often is in cases of untreated depression, can lead to the development of other psychiatric disorders. Other than depression and anxiety, a person can also develop the following issues:

3.1. Eating Disorder and Appetite Changes: From Loss to Overindulgence

Depression can distort a person’s perception of themselves, leading to a negative self-image and low self-esteem. This distorted body image can contribute to the development of eating disorders. Irregular meals can often lead to weight fluctuations, causing body dysmorphic disorder.

For some individuals, food and eating can become a way to cope with negative emotions, providing temporary relief from feelings of sadness, anxiety, or loneliness.

Binge eating, for instance, might be used as a way to temporarily numb emotional pain. They may experience increased appetite. Unhealthy weight gain can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

Others may experience a loss of appetite, leading to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. When one starts losing weight rapidly without a proper diet plan, it can lead to weakness, which in itself is an invitation to many other diseases.

It weakens one’s immunity, making the body prone to diabetes, malnutrition, inflammation, fertility, or even serious immune system cancers.

3.2. Social Anxiety and Isolation

Social anxiety and depression frequently coexist and can interact in complex ways. Individuals often feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts and emotions.

This can lead to withdrawing from social interactions and avoiding social situations. Social anxiety can amplify this tendency, making individuals more reluctant to engage in social activities due to fears of judgment, embarrassment, or rejection.

They may catastrophize potential social outcomes, assuming the worst possible scenarios.

Avoidance is a hallmark of social anxiety, as individuals often go to great lengths to avoid situations that trigger anxiety. In the context of depression, this avoidance can worsen feelings of isolation and further limit social interactions, contributing to the cycle of depression.

Individuals may withdraw from social situations, friends, and family, making it easier for the symptoms of depression to develop and persist.

Depression often leads to the individual losing interest or pleasure in activities. Social interactions may become perceived as more effortful, leading to strained or superficial relationships.

3.3. Bedtime Struggles: Insomnia and Sleep Disturbances

Depression increases sleep disturbances, which often leads to the person getting little to no sleep. Lack of proper rest in the body, especially the brain, can further lead to other physical symptoms.

Long-term sleep deprivation can cause high blood pressure, weakened immunity, weight gain, and several other issues. It can also induce frequent headaches, make a person easily irritable, and increase the duration of the next major depressive disorder or episode.

Depression can alter sleep architecture, affecting sleep stages’ distribution. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the stage associated with dreaming, can be disrupted, leading to an increased frequency of awakenings during the night.

3.4. Nutritional Impact: Deficiencies and Unhealthy Patterns

Addressing the importance of proper nourishment for physical and mental health is an important element of depression treatment.

A well-balanced diet provides the body with the building blocks for neurotransmitters, which are messengers in the brain that govern mood and emotions.

You can avoid nutritional deficiencies by incorporating whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats into your meals. It promotes stable blood sugar levels, which can aid with mood and energy regulation throughout the day.

When you don’t consume proper nutritional meals, cognitive function may suffer, affecting concentration and memory.

Long-term consequences include an increased risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, along with potential digestive problems, affecting stomach acid production, skin issues, and compromised recovery from illness because of a weakened immune system.

Recognizing the importance of nutrition on psychological wellness, individuals suffering from depression can make conscious choices to eat nutrient-dense meals that promote well-being.

3.5. Aches, Pains, and Physical Discomfort

In the case of depression, a psychiatric disorder where aches, pains, and body discomfort frequently appear as physical symptoms of inner turmoil, the relationship between emotional and physical well-being becomes clear.

3.5.1. Psychosomatic Discomfort

Psychosomatic Discomfort underscores how the mental distress associated with depression can manifest into actual physical discomfort.

Stress intensifies the perception of bodily discomfort, resulting in a loop in which emotional suffering contributes to physical sensations.

A woman her her back because of pain.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

3.5.2.  Headaches, Muscle Tension, and Gastrointestinal Distress

Even little stimuli might activate or exacerbate pain responses when one is depressed. The visible manifestations of this complicated relationship are headaches, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal distress.

People who are depressed frequently complain of headaches and migraines, which can be due to increased muscular tension and altered pain perception.

Similarly, prolonged muscle tension is frequently associated with depression, resulting in muscle aches; this is due to increased muscular tension. Depression is frequently accompanied by prolonged physical tension, resulting in muscle aches and stiffness.

Furthermore, gastrointestinal pain, such as stomachaches and digestive difficulties, is frequent in persons suffering from depression.

Such symptoms tend to be triggered because of the gut-brain connection, which is the deep interaction between the digestive system and the emotional state.

3.6. Immune System and Inflammation

When studying the immune system and inflammation in the context of depression, the complicated connection between this common mental health disorder and physical health comes into focus.

3.6.1. Depression’s Impact on Immune Function

The Impact of Depression on Immune Function highlights the connection between emotional well-being and immunity.

Several studies have been conducted to investigate the complex interaction between depressive states and decreased immune function, revealing how persistent emotional distress might undermine the body’s defense mechanisms.

Chronic stress responses, which are a part of the depressed experience, can act as antagonists of immunological strength, increasing sensitivity to infections and diseases.

3.6.2. Inflammatory Pathways: A Closer Look

This link becomes much more complicated when viewed through the lens of Inflammatory Pathways. Chronic inflammation, which is a common symptom in depressive states, causes a chain reaction of events that affects both mental and physical well-being.

3.7. Cardiometabolic Effects

The significant cardiometabolic consequences addressed in this context highlight the delicate link between mental and physical well-being.

3.7.1. Cardiovascular Health in the Shadow of Depression

The link between depression and cardiovascular risk factors is becoming more well-recognized, providing light on how mood disorders can have a complex impact on heart health and contribute to the development of cardiovascular illnesses. 

According to studies, people who are depressed frequently exhibit high levels of inflammation and a spike in stress hormones due to psychological distress, both of which can lead to atherosclerosis and hypertension.

Furthermore, depressive behaviors such as poor dietary choices, inactive lifestyles, and cigarette smoking may amplify these risks, increasing vulnerability to cardiovascular disease. It can also cause high blood pressure and uncontrolled hypertension.

3.7.2. Metabolic Changes and Insulin Resistance

Additionally, studies into the effects of depression on metabolic processes highlight the possibility of altered insulin resistance, demonstrating a notable link between mood disorders and the development of illnesses such as diabetes.

3.8. Immobility and Physical Inactivity

Initially, the interaction between a sedentary lifestyle and depression creates an anxious cycle in which physical inactivity might increase depressed symptoms, resulting in a negative feedback loop.

This cycle emphasizes the need to understand how a lack of exercise can lead to a loss in overall health and the need to address both physical and emotional components to break this potentially detrimental cycle.

A person sitting on the couch in the dark with stress.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

3.8.1. Sedentary Lifestyle, Depression and the Consequences

Physical inactivity often results in a decline in endorphin production, a natural substance in the brain that contributes to feelings of enjoyment and relaxation.

This decrease in endorphin production can lead to a decreased sensation of well-being and exacerbate depression symptoms.

A sedentary lifestyle can worsen depressive disorders through its impact on neurotransmitter production, brain health, sleeping habits, inflammation, and interpersonal relationships.

3.9. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and How Depression Affects This Sickness

Psychological factors such as anxiety, stress, and depression may aggravate IBS symptoms. Emotional distress can trigger or worsen gastrointestinal symptoms in individuals with IBS.

The gut is emotionally sensitive, and increased stress or negative emotions can cause changes in gut motility and sensitivity, thereby exacerbating irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.

A woman with stomach pain lying on the couch.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

3.10. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and DEPRESSION

The Relationship between GERD and depression is a two-way road; as much as GERD affects a person with depression, sometimes Depression is caused as a physical symptom of GERD.

3.10.1. Psychological Factors and GERD:

Stress, anxiety, and sadness, for example, can all have an impact on the development or aggravation of GERD symptoms.

Stress and anxiety, particularly, can disrupt gastrointestinal motility and, thus, the function of the lower esophageal sphincter.

This muscle is essential in keeping stomach acid from leaking back into the esophagus. Increased stress levels may increase the incidence of acid reflux episodes.

The Effects of GERD on Depression: Chronic Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease symptoms such as frequent heartburn, regurgitation, and even chest pain and discomfort can have a substantial influence on an individual’s quality of life.

Gastritis discomfort and discomfort can cause sleep problems, diminished ability to enjoy food, and limitations in everyday activities. 

4. Strategies to Prevent Health Challenges in the Face of Depression

Let’s discuss further ways of managing depression and physical sickness.

Uncovering these links not only sheds insight into the complexities of the mind-body relationship but also emphasizes the significance of addressing both emotional and physical elements when treating depression and its associated physical discomforts.

There is a recurring pattern between the connection of emotional and physical symptoms of depression.

4.1. Self-Care

Prioritizing self-care is essential to avoid frequent depressive episodes and immediate risk. Engaging in stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing can mitigate the negative physiological effects of chronic stress.

Seeking social support, staying connected with loved ones, and engaging in fulfilling activities can combat social isolation and promote mental and physical health.

4.2. Take Professional help

To avoid Chronic Illness due to depression and other psychiatric disorders, seek help from a mental health professional. There are lots of depression treatments available. Even medication for the physical illness that comes along is available as well.

Consultations with healthcare specialists, such as dietitians or nutritionists, regarding common physical symptoms can provide tailored advice on developing a food plan that promotes both mental and physical health.

4.3. Keep a Healthy Diet

Individuals can empower themselves by eating mindfully and prioritizing healthy nutrition and observation, preventive steps like exercising, consulting a professional, talk therapy, etc. can be taken.

Even the smallest steps in the right direction can be very helpful.

4.4. Other Things to Keep in Mind

Getting proper sleep, having healthy meals, going out for a walk, talking to someone, and doing something the person likes can help reduce the hopelessness and sadness during these episodes of major depression.

5. Ending Thoughts

Look out for your friends and family for the common symptoms of depression and other physical symptoms that come along with it.

Two people conversating and one of them is making notes of it.
Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

In case you notice someone portraying symptoms of severe depression with extreme hopelessness, find tips on suicide prevention, make sure you get them in touch with the national suicide prevention lifeline, and keep checking up on them regularly for at least two weeks.

Suggest natural remedies and pay attention to related physical symptoms of depression, as mentioned in the article.

  1. Hammen, Constance, and Ed Watkins. Depression. Routledge, 2018. ↩︎
  2. Salovey, Peter, et al. “Emotional states and physical health.” American psychologist 55.1 (2000): 110. ↩︎
  3. Freeman, Daniel, et al. “Virtual reality in the assessment, understanding, and treatment of mental health disorders.” Psychological medicine 47.14 (2017): 2393-2400. ↩︎
  4. Bialoskorski, Leticia SS, Joyce HDM Westerink, and Egon L. van den Broek. “Mood Swings: An affective interactive art system.” Intelligent Technologies for Interactive Entertainment: Third International Conference, INTETAIN 2009, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 22-24, 2009. Proceedings 3. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2009. ↩︎
  5. Wiech, Katja. “Deconstructing the sensation of pain: The influence of cognitive processes on pain perception.” Science 354.6312 (2016): 584-587. ↩︎
  6. Russell, Georgina, and Stafford Lightman. “The human stress response.” Nature reviews endocrinology 15.9 (2019): 525-534. ↩︎
  7. Dansie, E. J., and Dennis C. Turk. “Assessment of patients with chronic pain.” British journal of anaesthesia 111.1 (2013): 19-25. ↩︎

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Namita Soren

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