The Effects of Depression on the Body
We all feel sad or anxious at times. It’s a normal part of life. However, clinical depression does interfere with your ability to function. Depression affects how you feel and can also cause changes throughout your body. Major depression is a serious medical condition that has a dramatic effect on your quality of life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 6.7 percent of adults in the United States have depression. People with depression often develop other health issues as well. Major depression is also called major depressive illness or clinical depression.
Central Nervous System
Depression can cause a lot of symptoms, many of which are easy to dismiss or ignore. It may be especially difficult to detect in children, who can’t articulate their symptoms, or in older adults, who may blame their symptoms on aging.
Symptoms of depression include overwhelming sadness, grief, and a sense of guilt. People with depression often complain about feeling tired all the time. They also tend to have trouble sleeping. Other symptoms include irritability, anger, and loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure, including sex. It may be described as a feeling of emptiness or hopelessness. Some people may find it difficult to put these feelings into words. Frequent episodes of crying may be a sign of depression, but not everyone who is depressed cries.
Other symptoms include inability to concentrate, memory problems, and difficulty making decisions. People with depression may have trouble maintaining a normal work schedule or fulfill social obligations.
Some people who are depressed may use alcohol or drugs. They may become reckless or abusive. A depressed person may consciously avoid talking about it or try to mask the problem. People suffering from depression may be preoccupied with thoughts of death or hurting themselves. There’s an increased risk of suicide.
Children get depressed, too. Signs include clinginess, worry, and unwillingness to attend school. Children may be excessively irritable and negative.
Depression can cause headaches, chronic body aches, and pain that may not respond to medication.
Depression can affect the appetite. Some people cope by overeating or binging. This can lead to weight and obesity-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes. Others lose their appetite or fail to eat nutritious food. Eating problems can lead to stomachaches, cramps, constipation, or malnutrition. Symptoms may not improve with medication.
Cardiovascular and Immune Systems
Depression and stress are closely related. Stress hormones speed heart rate and make blood vessels tighten, putting your body in a prolonged state of emergency. Over time, this can lead to heart disease.
According to Harvard Medical School, patients who are depressed when hospitalized for a heart condition are two to five times likelier to have severe chest pain, heart attack, or stroke, in the next year. Recurrence of cardiovascular problems is linked more closely to depression than to smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Untreated, depression raises the risk of dying after a heart attack. Heart disease is also a trigger for depression.
Depression and stress may have a negative impact on the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and diseases.
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.