Depression is very widespread in the US. Almost a quarter of Americans will experience an episode of depression at some point during their lives.
Over the past few decades, there has been a lot of public education about the emotional symptoms of depression.
Many people now know that depression is not the same as feeling sad. Depression can be a serious mental health issue that needs to be diagnosed and treated by a professional. Depression can also be treated very successfully with modern anti-depressants and various forms of counseling.
The main emotional symptoms of depression are relatively well known. If you are concerned about a loved one, a co-worker, or a friend, (or perhaps even about yourself) check for these most common symptoms:
- Negative thinking and loops of negative thinking that return even after short periods of relief. It’s not possible to “argue them out.’’
- Lack of motivation – “what is the point?”
- Lack of energy – they can’t get anything done
- Difficulty concentrating on tasks and conversations
- Negative moods like irrational outbreaks of anger and general irritability
- Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
- If the depression gets worse, feelings of hopelessness and sometimes even despair
- And, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts
If anyone expresses suicidal ideas, you need to take that very seriously. You also should arrange a visit to a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible.
Other, milder symptoms of depression can still sometimes pass unrecognized, but if the depression persists, people will start to be concerned.
However, it may surprise you to hear that depression can also cause a lot of physical symptoms. The reasons for this are partly associated with the deteriorating mental health of the person suffering from depression. It makes them more likely, for example, to develop problems sleeping or problems with substance abuse, perhaps in a desperate attempt at self-medication.
Another reason is that depression often has an impact on life style. People can become less physically active, which can lead to symptoms, or they can start to act recklessly and become prone to accidents and injuries.
The third reason is that depression is associated with dysregulation of specific neural pathways in the brain that affect both emotions and physical health such as regulation of pain perception and the information network between body and brain.
Physical symptoms of depression can be:
- Exhaustion. Not just mental tiredness, but physical fatigue that makes it difficult to perform everyday tasks.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia. Trouble sleeping or trouble staying awake. The healthy sleep/waking cycle is increasingly disturbed.
- Headaches. Headaches frequently accompany episodes of depression.
- Digestive problems. The digestive system, sometimes also called the “gut brain,” is very sensitive to stress and can respond to depression with physical symptoms like indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and heartburn.
- Dizziness. The exact connection with depression is largely unknown but they often occur together.
- Weight loss or weight gain. This may be a direct result of the depression. For example, “comfort eating” may lead to weight gain and lack of interest in enjoyable or everyday activities may lead to weight loss. Weight fluctuation may also be connected to elevated stress levels.
- Back pain and muscle pain. Changes in pain perception may affect someone who suffers from depression and pain levels may be much higher than under normal circumstances.
- Chest pain and hyperventilation. Although more commonly associated with anxiety, depression can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. Of course, in cases of chest pain, it is very important to seek medical help immediately since chest pain can be a symptom of acute and potentially life threatening heart disease.
Many of the physical symptoms of depression can, of course, also be caused or be related to various physical illnesses. But if you observe them in someone who also shows emotional symptoms of depression, it can be a good indication that something needs to be done.
If you are experiencing many of the emotional and physical symptoms of depression yourself, it might be a good idea to see a mental health professional soon and get a diagnosis. You don’t need to suffer unnecessarily. Working with you, your counselor can design the best possible treatment plan. Depression responds well to treatment and you will feel much better again, both in body and mind.