There’s no doubt that depression is a devastating condition. Although it’s defined as a mental disorder, it actually inhibits your entire being. All aspects of your life can be affected, whether at home, work or school. Your personal relationships may also suffer. In addition, keep in mind that if depression is not addressed, it can put you at risk of more severe and debilitating effects.
Depression Puts Your Body in Poor Shape
It’s not uncommon for depression to manifest physically, even though its primary symptoms are emotional in nature (such as harboring negative feelings like hopelessness and helplessness)1
In fact, according to research,2 a high number of patients who suffer from depression seeking treatment in primary health care settings typically report only physical symptoms — one reason why depression sometimes can be difficult to diagnose. Some of the most common physical effects of depression include:
• Pain — This includes chronic joint pain, limb pain and back pain. The same study above says that this is because there is a deep biological connection between physical pain and depression. This is because when you are depressed, there is a dysregulation in the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence both mood and pain.3
For example, when an episode of depression messes with your serotonin levels, your pain threshold is significantly affected. Having insufficient serotonin (which works by keeping “pain gates” closed) can lead you to feel more pain.4
• Gastrointestinal problems — People who suffer from depression or anxiety usually experience stomach ailments like nausea, queasiness and diarrhea. Stress brought on by depression can also make ailments like Crohn’s disease, colitis and ulcer more intense.5
• Cardiovascular issues — A study from Harvard Health Publications found that heart disease patients who suffer from depression during their hospitalization have a fivefold risk of having severe chest pain, stroke or heart attack in the following year. They also have a two- to fivefold higher risk of dying.6
• Poor immune health — Depression and stress can mess with your immune system (especially as it messes with your gut, where 80 percent of your immune system resides), which makes you highly vulnerable to infections and diseases.7
Other physical effects of depression can include changes in appetite, weight gain or weight loss, changes in sleeping pattern, fatigue and headaches.8
Depression Can Lead You Toward Substance Abuse
To deal with the negative thoughts and feelings associated with depression, many people suffering from this disorder turn to harmful substances like alcohol and illegal drugs to cope with their symptoms.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), at least one-fifth of Americans who are dealing with anxiety or depression have an alcohol or other substance use disorder. In addition, 20 percent of people with an alcohol or substance abuse problem also have underlying anxiety or depression.9
But why do people drink when they feel depressed? This is because alcohol makes them feel “relaxed and less anxious,” even confident, as it alters the chemicals in the brain.10 It also temporarily blunts the stress hormones,11 which makes people “forget” about their dilemma.
But the truth is that alcohol is a depressant, and once its pleasurable effects wear off, the person usually becomes susceptible to negative emotional responses. Alcoholism can lead to aggression, anger and more depression. The same can be said for illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin. In fact, depressed individuals (particularly those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and behavior) are actually at a greater risk of drug overdose, whether accidental or intentional.12
Suicide: The Most Devastating Effect of Depression
Probably the most dangerous effect of depression is that it can lead people to commit suicide. DoSomething.org states that untreated depression is the primary cause of suicide, and that at least two-thirds of people who commit suicide suffer from depression before and at the time of their deaths.13 This is alarming, as suicide has been found to be the 10th leading cause of death in 2013.14
This is one of the most important reasons why depression must be addressed immediately. Most people think that if a depressed person talks about suicide, he or she will not attempt it — this is a misconception.15 So if you know someone who struggles with depression and is expressing thoughts about suicide or showing suicidal tendencies, reach out to them immediately.