Can Depression Make You Sick? [+ Tips and FAQs]

Depression is more than just a feeling of exhaustion or a temporary dip in mood. It encompasses deep feelings of sadness and a diminished interest in activities once enjoyed. Significantly, it affects daily activities and can manifest in both emotional turmoil and physical symptoms. For some, it may even lead to looping thoughts and suicidal ideation.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of depression, it’s crucial to recognize that it’s not always visible externally. Contrary to common belief, individuals with depression may not always appear sad or withdrawn. In fact, they might seem like the most cheerful person in a room, skillfully masking their true feelings. 

This disparity between appearance and reality highlights the complex nature of depression as a mental health condition. It underscores the importance of understanding and addressing it with appropriate care and treatment.

This article aims to shed light on how depression affects individuals both emotionally and physically, specifically focusing on how and why depression can lead to physical illness.

What Is Depression?

Depression, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a common mental disorder characterised by persistent sadness and a lack of interest in activities, differing significantly from typical mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to daily challenges. It profoundly impacts all facets of life, including personal relationships and performance at school or work.

Global Depression Statistics

Statistically, depression affects approximately 3.8% of the global population. This includes 5% of adults, with a slightly higher prevalence in women (6%) compared to men (4%). The condition is notably more common in women, who are about 50% more likely to experience it than men. 

Additionally, it affects 5.7% of adults over 60 years old. Globally, around 280 million people are living with depression. The issue is particularly concerning among pregnant women and new mothers, where more than 10% experience depressive symptoms. Tragically, over 700,000 people die from suicide annually, making it the fourth leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds.

Physical Symptoms of Depression

Depression impacts more than just the mind; it also takes a toll on the body. Different factors like stress or hormonal changes can cause depression, leading to physical symptoms. These aren’t just psychological effects, but real physical changes.

Here, we’ll look at the common physical symptoms of depression, which include fatigue, body aches, sleep problems, digestive issues, appetite changes, and reduced libido. Understanding these symptoms is key to recognizing the full impact of depression.

Fatigue or Low Energy

Fatigue, a common physical symptom of depression, is more than just feeling overly tired or experiencing a temporary energy slump. It’s a profound exhaustion that affects those with depression, characterised by feelings of emptiness and helplessness, which contribute to this severe tiredness.

Fatigue or Low Energy

Fatigue in depression can manifest in three main ways: physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Physically, it might present as chronic weariness, sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, or muscle aches. Cognitively, it can lead to difficulties with decision-making and judgement, as well as slower reflexes and responses. Emotionally, fatigue often surfaces as irritability, moodiness, or a general sense of being overwhelmed.

Body Aches and Pains

Body aches and pains are another physical symptom frequently associated with depression. According to Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 69 percent of individuals with depression had previously consulted a doctor for their aches and pains, particularly in the back and neck. This category of symptoms also encompasses headaches, migraines, joint pain, and muscle pain, which can all be indicators of clinical depression.

The increase in stress hormones, like cortisol, in individuals with depression can heighten anxiety levels, which can lead to soreness, stiffness, and general body aches and pain. Furthermore, people with depression may experience pain differently due to altered pain perception. Research from 2017 links lower back pain, a common ailment among adults, directly to depression. Another study found that individuals with depression are 60% more likely to experience back pain compared to those without depression.

Sleep Difficulties

Sleep difficulties are a prevalent issue for those with depression. As reported by the Journal of the National Library of Medicine (PubMed Central), about three-quarters of people with depression experience insomnia, while hypersomnia affects around 40% of younger adults and 10% of older adults with depression, more commonly in females. These sleep disturbances significantly impact quality of life and are linked to an increased risk of suicide.

Sleep Difficulties

Those suffering from depression often struggle with falling asleep, experience poor sleep quality, or get fewer hours of sleep than needed. Research indicates that disruptions in the circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, may be a contributing factor to depression.

Issues with Digestion

Depression often goes hand in hand with digestive problems. Emotional stress, a key component of depression, is commonly associated with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or general gastrointestinal (GI) issues, including a sinking feeling in the stomach. This connection highlights how closely our mental and physical health are interlinked.

Numerous studies have observed this link. For instance, a 2018 study involving over 19,000 participants revealed a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression in individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Common symptoms of these digestive issues include nausea, constipation, and diarrhoea. Nausea can involve sensations like the urge to vomit, lack of appetite, profuse sweating, or stomach ache. Constipation is typically characterised by infrequent bowel movements, often fewer than three times per week.

Changes in Appetite

Depression can also significantly alter one’s appetite, a change often rooted in hormonal fluctuations involving serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters. When depression strikes, it can disrupt eating patterns, leading to a silent struggle for many. This change in appetite can manifest in two ways: an increased appetite or a loss of it. As a result, individuals with depression might find themselves either overeating or having little to no desire to eat.

Low Libido

Depression often dulls the ability to enjoy activities that are normally pleasurable, including sex. Typically a source of enjoyment and connection, sex can become less appealing for those battling depression. Contributing factors include decreased energy, negative self-perception, and viewing relationships through a pessimistic lens, all of which can significantly diminish sex drive.

Low Libido

Mental health professionals recognize low libido as a symptom of depression, often linked to elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This increase in cortisol can substantially reduce an individual’s sexual desire, altering their typical sex drive.

Tips On Managing Depression

Given the range of symptoms associated with depression, experts recommend various strategies to manage it effectively. These include approaches like psychotherapy, counselling services and medication, as well as lifestyle changes that help reduce stress. 

It’s important to approach the management of depression with a positive mindset and patience. Recognizing that progress may be gradual is key in effectively dealing with this condition.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a key treatment for depression, helping uncover root causes and improve emotional well-being. It teaches coping strategies for negative thoughts and healthy responses to challenges.

Brain Stimulation Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is often used for severe depression or bipolar disorder when other treatments haven’t worked. It involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain under anaesthesia, carried out by a medical team including a psychiatrist, an anesthesiologist, and a nurse or physician assistant. Before ECT, patients undergo a thorough assessment, including blood tests and an ECG, and must give written informed consent. The treatment usually involves two to three sessions per week, totaling six to 12 treatments, with the number depending on symptom severity and response speed.

Animal Therapy

Animal therapy has been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. This includes methods like equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP), where caring for and riding horses can improve mood and alter negative behaviours. The act of nurturing animals provides a sense of purpose and fulfilment. A study focusing on dog-assisted therapy revealed that, over ten weeks, it significantly reduced depression symptoms in institutionalised elderly individuals compared to a control group.

Animal Therapy

Confiding In Loved Ones

Confiding in loved ones is an effective way to manage depression, especially for those trapped in negative thought cycles. Opening up to someone who provides a sense of safety and understanding can be immensely therapeutic. For individuals with depression, often the need is simply to be heard without judgement. If you know someone showing signs of depression, offering a listening ear or support can make a significant difference. Start by asking how they prefer to be supported – whether they need someone to listen or are seeking solutions.

Medication

Medication, specifically antidepressants, is another approach for managing depression, prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnoses the severity of depression – whether it’s major or severe – and recommends medication tailored to the individual’s symptoms and overall health. Common types of antidepressants include SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), SNRIs (Serotonin/Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors), TCAs (Tricyclic Antidepressants), Serotonin modulators, and MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors).

Medication

Antidepressants work by altering the brain’s use of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and sometimes dopamine, to regulate mood and behaviour. Each type has a different mechanism of action. Potential side effects can include upset stomach, diarrhoea, headaches, drowsiness, and sexual dysfunction.

Stress Reduction

Stress reduction is key in managing depression, as it involves using effective strategies to mitigate mental and emotional turmoil. The goal is to enhance one’s quality of life. Methods for stress management range from professional help to self-care practices like exercise, massage, yoga, and meditation. Engaging in activities like a daily 10-minute exercise routine or practising yoga and meditation twice a day can significantly help in reducing stress levels.

FAQs about Depression and Sickness

Are people with depression more prone to getting sick?

Yes, people with depression are often more prone to getting sick. Depression can weaken the immune system, making the body less effective at fighting off infections and illnesses. This increased vulnerability can lead to a higher incidence of physical ailments.

Is there a link between depression and chronic illnesses?

There is a well-established link between depression and chronic illnesses. Individuals with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease or diabetes, have a higher risk of developing depression. Conversely, depression can exacerbate or contribute to the development of certain chronic illnesses, partly due to its impact on the body’s systems and lifestyle choices affected by the mental state.

Can depression lead to increased susceptibility to infections?

Yes, depression can lead to an increased susceptibility to infections. The condition can alter immune system responses, making the body more vulnerable to infections.

Seek Help From A Professional

Speak to one of our counsellors here at Sofia Wellness Clinic. Book an appointment here.

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Written by Maria Listya, Marketing Intern 2023 at Sofia Wellness Clinic

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