Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more

Can depression make you sick?

  • Depression can impact your physical health in numerous ways.
  • Physical signs of depression include headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and fatigue.
  • Depression can influence your digestive health. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, acid reflux, cramps, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Depression and stress can weaken your immune system. That means you’re at a higher risk of getting sick.

Depression doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can catch a case of the blues. It’s not just in your head either. Depression can hit your physical health… hard. Here’s a closer look at how depression can make you sick.

A 2017 study found that 17.3 million adults in the United States had a depressive episode in the previous year. It affects everyone differently.

You may have depression if you experience any of these symptoms for 2 weeks or longer:

  • feeling sad, anxious, empty, irritable, hopeless, pessimistic, guilty, worthless, restless, or helpless
  • poor concentration, memory, or trouble making decisions
  • loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • having suicidal thoughts

What are the physical signs of depression?

  • headaches
  • low energy
  • digestive issues
  • appetite fluctuations
  • changes in sleep pattern
  • moving or talking slower than usual

Stomach sadness

The gastrointestinal (GI) system and brain have a strong bond. In fact, there are so many nerves in your GI tract that some researchers have referred to it as a “second brain.”

Emotions can set off that lovely “butterflies in the tummy” vibe. But they can also trigger a pit-of-digestive-despair sensation.

If you don’t have a GI condition, your chronic digestive issues might be a symptom of depression. You can treat an upset tummy. But that won’t cure the cause.

Sick to your stomach

A 2018 study found that peeps with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) had higher rates of anxiety and depression. GERD is a condition where stomach contents are pushed into the esophagus. This causes heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms.

There’s also a proven link between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and depression. The uncomfortable symptoms can act as mental health stressors. Studies show around 50 to 90 percent of people treated for IBS also have a psychiatric disorder.

IBS symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • constipation
  • cramping
  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • gas

Double-edged sleep sword

Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Wake up throughout the night? Have poor quality snoozes? Or are you sleeping a lot more than usual but still feel tired?

Sleep issues can be the first warning sign of a major depressive episode. Continued sleep disturbances may predict future depressive episodes.

The sleepy snake that ate itself

Sleep issues are a common symptom of depression. But insomnia can also cause depression. This cycle can feed into itself. The best way to slay a healthy sleep pattern is CBTI (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia).

The immune system suffers

Mr. Sandman plays a major role in your overall health. Your immune system fights infections while you’re catching Zzz’s. If your depression is keeping you awake you’re at a higher risk of getting sick.

Evidence also shows depression is linked to inflammation. That’s your body’s response to stress, infection, and injury. Inflammation goes hand-in-hand with compromised immunity.

Chronic inflammation can lead to:

A real broken heart?

If your heart literally hurts after a breakup you’re not alone. Stress and depression can lead to heart problems. A 2013 study found depression can play a major role in high blood pressure.

Stress and depression can also lead to:

  • irregular heart rate
  • artery damage 💔

Surprises on the scale

Depression can affect your diet habits. Some folks lose their appetite. Others nosh for comfort. Either way, depression can cause weight fluctuations.

The connection between depression and weight gain/loss is a bit tricky. Some antidepressant meds might lead to weight gain. But, on the other hand, antidepressants can also improve your general mood and motivation to exercise — which might help you shed a few pounds.

Does the scale count?

Depression is common in people who have overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A survey conducted during a 5 year period found about 43 percent of adults with depression are also obese.

Headaches

A horrible headache is the last thing you want to deal with when you’re depressed. Alas, 30 to 60 percent of depressed people also have frequent headaches. In fact, headaches and depression may fuel each other. A lack of sleep doesn’t help the issue.

Body aches

The link between emotional and physical pain is legit. Mood disorders can alter pain perception and heighten pain. People who suffer from chronic pain are also more likely to experience depression.

Depression can also contribute back pain, stiff joints, and muscle aches. This may be due to inactivity. Losing interest in physical activities is a common symptom of depression which can lead to stiffness and pain.

Read more about the physical symptoms of depression here.

There are lots of depression treatments out there. Sometimes symptoms may have to be treated separately. But certain remedies combat emotional and physical symptoms. Gotta love a twofer, right?

Most depression treatment plans will include several components tailored to your needs.

Pull up a couch

Psychotherapy is the bomb. It can really help you get to the root of your depression and find positive ways to cope. Keep in mind, therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. Which type of therapy you pick depends on your needs and style.

Popular options include:

Medications

There’s no shame in taking antidepressants. They can help correct the neurotransmitter imbalances in your brain that might be causing your depression. They can also improve depression symptoms like:

  • loss of appetite
  • insomnia
  • poor concentration

Ask your doctor what combination of medications would work best for you. It might take some trial and error to figure out the perfect medication and dosage. Most antidepressants take 2 to 4 weeks to reach their full potency.

Just relax, bb

The ultimate easier-said-than-done solution! It might seem impossible to start a new activity right now. But take baby steps. These options can help improve your mood:

  • Do an exercise that makes you feel good (e.g. yoga, nature walks, and swimming).
  • Meditate. Give yourself some time to clear your headspace.
  • Spend time with “your people.” It’s normal to feel alone and isolated when depressed. But it’s okay to ask for help (and to let people help).
  • Don’t put extra pressure on yourself. Postpone major life decisions until you feel like you again.
  • Treat yo’ self! Whether that’s journaling, taking a bath, etc., do something that makes you feel good.

Other tools in your pillbox

Antidepressants aren’t the only medications that can help.

Consult your doctor to see if over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen) are right for your symptoms. Your doc can prescribe a muscle relaxer if the discomfort is really intense.

There are both prescription and OTC options that can help with GI symptoms including GERD and IBS.

A natural approach

You may be able to get some relief using herbal remedies. Check these out:

  • Melatonin, passion flower, valerian root, and magnesium may help you sleep (though melatonin is recommended to help reset, not as a daily solution).
  • Studies show peeps who take omega-3 fatty acids on the reg are less likely to be depressed.
  • St. John’s wort is often cited as a natural treatment for depression. But its efficacy needs more research and it can interact with some medications.

PSA: Use caution with supplements and natural remedies. They’re not always tested or regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Always consult with your doctor before starting a new supplement regimen.

Asking for help can be hard. But you have nothing to be ashamed of. Make an appointment with a mental health professional or doctor if you’re feeling down for longer than 2 weeks. That’s how long it takes to receive an actual diagnosis.

Suicide prevention

If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of self-harm or you’re having thoughts of suicide, call 911 for emergency medical care.

You can also reach out to a loved one, or someone in your community, or contact a suicide hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Depression isn’t just in your head. It can affect your entire life, body and all. If you think you’re depressed just remember: You’re not alone. There are tons of resources that will help your mind and body feel better soon.