When people think of depression they associate the issue mainly with feelings of sadness and pain. While the emotional aspects of depression can be very severe, it is an illness that affects the whole person including their physical body. The changes that an individual experiences as their depression increases can affect everything from their brain to their heart and immune system.
If a person doesn’t get treatment for their depression they are likely to see physical changes in themselves and over time this can even lead to a higher risk of developing physical conditions. It is common for people to have physical symptoms with their depression but they may not realize that it is connected to a mental health issue. An individual’s emotional and physical health are closely related and without psychological recovery, all aspects of a person’s well being can suffer.
Symptoms of Depression in the Body
Depression can cause changes in the way the brain functions which in turn can have an effect on the body. People with depression might complain of a number of physical ailments that may manifest themselves periodically. Their physical symptoms can be just as uncomfortable and unpleasant as their feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
These are some of the common physical problems associated with depression:
- Headaches or migraines
- Achiness and soreness
- Chronic fatigue and a general lack of energy
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Back pain
- Decreased appetite and dramatic weight loss as a result
- Increase appetite along with noticeable weight gain
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Decreased sex drive
- Digestive problems such as nausea or constipation
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
People with depression can often experience multiple physical ailments or their physical symptoms may change in different periods of time. They may have physical symptoms on their own or have them when they are also dealing with intense feelings of sadness, guilt or anxiety. They may not realize at first that their physical pain is directly caused by and closely related to a mental illness.
Why Depression Affects the Body
What causes a mental and emotional problem to affect the body physically? Depression is a mental illness that is associated with changes in the brain and abnormal functioning of neurotransmitters like serotonin. Levels of serotonin which regulates mood can also have a direct effect on things like sleep, sex drive and appetite.
Serotonin can also affect a person’s threshold for pain so that a depressed person with low levels of serotonin may be more sensitive to pain. They may be more prone to physical aches and things like back pain or they may be more aware of these sensations. Inability to sleep or decreased appetite can also negatively affect the body causing headaches, nausea and other physical symptoms.
Another reason physical ailments are related to depression has to do with how a person’s emotional state can determine their behavior. Their thoughts may be so negative or they may feel so depressed that they are not able to take care themselves. As a result they may neglect to eat right or sleep enough which can create a cycle of sadness and physical pain.
Treating Physical Symptoms of Depression
In order to minimize the physical problems that can result from depression it is helpful to address issues with the brain. Antidepressant medication can help equalize chemicals in the brain so that nerve cell networks can communicate and work more efficiently. Some medications such as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs help to create more serotonin in the brain so that a person can have a more stable mood.
Antidepressants can also help people with chronic pain and improve appetite problems by making chemical changes in the brain. People with anxiety or insomnia may need other supplemental medications to help them sleep or allow them to feel more calm. A psychiatrist can help determine what combination of medication will be most effective to treat specific symptoms.
In addition to medication, it is crucial to receive psychotherapy from a professional counselor. Talking about emotional issues can help people with depression process their feelings which they may be having trouble expressing to others. Working through emotional issues in therapy can help prevent those problems from manifesting themselves in physical ways.
Getting treatment for depression can minimize the physical symptoms of depression so that the patient can avoid the risks of physical conditions caused by lack of sleep, improper nutrition or other issues. Early intervention is crucial to help reduce physical issues and prevent emotional symptoms from growing in severity.
If you or someone you love is experiencing either physical or mental symptoms of depression then contact a local treatment center or therapist. They can provide information about how to create a treatment plan that can reduce symptoms and improve overall health and wellbeing.