Depression is a mental health condition suffered by more than 264 million people globally. The condition is primarily associated with emotional symptoms such as sadness, guilt or a sense of despair, as well as an inability to focus or perform day-to-day tasks.
The symptoms of depression, however, are not simply psychological and may have a wider-reaching effect on your health. You may wonder, can grief make you physically ill? Grief and depression can have a profound impact on your physical well-being, along with your social and psychological well-being.
Here are some of the principal ways in which depression impacts your overall health:
Depression can severely impact your appetite, causing you to either binge on “comfort” foods or lose your appetite altogether. Large shifts in eating habits due to depression can cause bloating, gastrointestinal discomfort, constipation, nausea, diarrhoea, and even malnutrition. Over-eating may also lead to weight-related health issues, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Just as your mental health affects your physical health, the way you treat your body can impact your mental health. The neurochemical serotonin, which plays a large role in regulating both digestion and mood, is largely produced and stored in the gut. Improper nutrition may negatively impact the body’s capacity to produce healthy levels of serotonin, further worsening the symptoms of depression. Maintaining a healthy diet while suffering from depression may help you better manage your wellbeing. A diet rich in healthy fats, essential minerals, amino acids, and vitamin B may help mitigate some aspects of depression.
The World Health Organization recognizes depression as a widespread health condition with physical as well as mental effects, and many can be tied directly to brain health and memory. Depression in older adults is linked to memory loss and longer reaction times. This can also be experienced as changes in how you perceive your thinking process. Some individuals suffering from depression may suffer from a sense of sluggishness in their thoughts, while others may feel restless, agitated, or disturbed by a constant bombardment of thoughts.
Nervous System Health
Many people cite chronic aches and pains as a common symptom of depression. This may occur because depression interferes with the body’s capacity to absorb the neurotransmitter serotonin, which may, in turn, decrease the body’s pain threshold. As a result, pre-existing pains such as back pain or headaches may be worsened. Researchers are still investigating the connection between depression and chronic pain, but studies point to a clear link between the two conditions. Individuals suffering from chronic pain similarly are at an increased risk of experiencing depression.
Similarly, suffering from depression can cause other chronic health issues to worsen. This occurs partly because, when dealing with depression, it can be difficult to maintain a regular treatment schedule. Your health may suffer as a result.
The symptoms of depression can compromise the immune system. This can decrease recovery time and, in severe cases, make otherwise preventable health conditions more likely to be deadly. Chronic depression or stress may cause an inflammatory response that impairs immune function, or possibly vice versa—an inflammatory response from the immune system negatively impacts the brain’s ability to produce mood-regulating hormones. Individuals suffering from inflammatory diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome are more likely to suffer from depression, but researchers have not been able to conclude which causes which.
Depression generally impacts peoples’ sleep habits, either by causing them to get too much sleep or not enough. Some studies have shown a link between interruptions in the natural sleep cycle and depression. Insomnia and lack of sleep resulting from depression may cause a range of further health complications.
Fatigue is also a commonly experienced symptom of depression. Feeling like you haven’t gotten enough sleep, no matter how much you have actually slept, can decrease motivation significantly and make it extremely difficult to get out of bed and perform simple tasks. Fatigue is also notoriously difficult to address, often persisting even after a patient has started to undergo treatment.
Chronic stress can cause the body to release stress hormones for long periods of time, increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels, and even causing hypertension. If your body stays in this state of emergency for too long, it can result in cardiovascular issues, such as heart disease. Depression is also linked to smoking and increased alcohol or drug consumption, as well as an unhealthy diet, all of which have a profoundly negative impact on cardiovascular health.
A decrease in libido or the inability to be aroused may accompany depression, and have a negative effect on an individual’s sex life. Depression can also reduce the pleasure associated with orgasms, or make it more difficult to reach an orgasm in the first place.
Lastly, depression increases an individual’s risk of suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of death among patients suffering from depression, but proper treatment can significantly decrease the likelihood of an individual having suicidal tendancies. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or think that someone may harm themselves or others, contact your local emergency number immediately. Most countries also have a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline as well. If you suspect someone around you may commit self-harm, it’s important that you stay with them and keep them safe.
A Vicious Cycle
Suffering from depression has a profound impact on every aspect of life. From decreased productivity at work to increased difficulty maintaining relationships and increased dependency on substances, depression can make even the simplest tasks more difficult. Depression has a wide range of symptoms that impact physical health, ranging from compromising the immune system to increasing chronic pain or affecting appetite and weight gain. Conversely, a poor diet, an inactive lifestyle, or pre-existing health conditions can all contribute to the development of depression. This creates a vicious cycle where your physical health and your mental health can negatively impact each other.
However, being aware of the effect of depression on your overall health can better help you combat these effects. Suffering from depression is normal, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. With the right combination of diet, social support, physical activity, and self-care regimen, you can maintain your health even through depression and perhaps even help yourself recover from it.