Although normally considered only in its connection to mental health, depression can also directly affect a patient’s physical health as well. While it is important to address the cause of chronic or long lasting depression it is equally important to address the effects it may have on a patient’s overall health in order to deliver a truly significant and comprehensive treatment plan.
How Depression Impacts Health
According to the World Health Organization, depression has a huge impact on a patient’s physical health. In a recent study they determined that depression can have more influence on physical health than arthritis, diabetes and asthma. Since depression often goes undiagnosed or untreated, its effects often wreak havoc on a person’s health which can, in turn, increase the intensity of depression. This vicious cycle can result in long lasting depression as well as the development of chronic illness.
Depression is itself a chronic illness and although normally treated as a mental illness, its effects on the body cannot be overlooked. These physical symptoms are often linked to other chronic illnesses and can either be a contributing factor in some cases or, in many cases, adds to the physical symptoms of an underlying problem. For example, people with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or Multiple Sclerosis will often develop chronic depression which can exacerbate the symptoms of their primary diagnosis. Some of the physical symptoms and effects of depression include:
- Increased stress levels
- Developing insomnia or altered sleep patterns
- Development of disordered eating (loss of appetite, binge eating, etc)
- Increased aches and paints, particularly muscle and joint pain
- Chronic fatigue
These physical symptoms can lead to health problems. For example, disordered eating such as loss of appetite or binge eating can lead to malnourishment, weight fluctuation and, in the case of weight gain, stress on the joints, heart and other problems associated with increased weight. A disturbance of sleep patterns results in less deep and healthy sleep which can affect cognitive abilities.
Joint Treatment of Depression
When depression is linked directly to a chronic illness, often the treatment of the primary illness will begin to alleviate some of the effects of depression. In other cases doctors may recommend dealing with depression as part of the overall treatment. Often, treatments for depression do not have to involve additional medication. In addition to therapy, there are changes patients can make on their own to help mitigate the effects of depression.
Increased Exercise – Aerobic exercise has been shown in a multitude of studies to help with many of the symptoms of depression. Even something as simple as a brisk walk can help to elevate the mood almost immediately and exercise is often recommended as a way to help immediately elevate the mood.
Diet and Nutrition – What a patient eats often will directly affect their mood as well as the intensity of their depression. Diets which are high in caffeine, sugar and refined foods can lead to mood swings since these foods can lead to spikes in blood sugar which, in turn, results in moods crashing once the sugar has made its way through the system.
Natural Supplements – Vitamins and supplements such as B vitamins, St. John’s Wort, Fish Oil and 5-HTP have all been the focus of clinical studies. In many cases these supplements have been shown to have a positive impact in the battle against depression. Supplements should never be added unless approved by a doctor in order to avoid conflict with other medications.
Taking depression into consideration when developing a treatment plan can not only help a patient’s quality of life as they deal with a chronic illness but, in many cases, it can help lessen the physical demands of a chronic illness. This joint approach can result in quicker recovery times as well as an increase in a patient’s quality of life.