Identifying The Physical Symptoms Of Depression - And What To Do About Them

Updated November 18, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Alongside anxiety disorders, depressive disorders are among the most common mental illness diagnoses. Depressive disorders can impact people of all ages and backgrounds, including kids, teens, and adults. Although it can be difficult to pinpoint and see, depression can profoundly impact a person's life. To help illustrate this, depression can so thoroughly impact individuals that major depressive disorder, sometimes called clinical depression or unipolar depression, is considered to be a mood disorder. That said, it’s very possible to treat depression and there are a wide range of treatments available. When it comes to depressive disorders, we often think of the social, psychological, or emotional symptoms that pair with these mental health conditions. We may be less apt to identify the physical symptoms of depression. So, what are the physical symptoms of depression, and how do you identify them? Is it possible for the physical symptoms of depression to go away? Today, we will discuss the answers to these questions and talk about how to find support for depression if you need it or think that you might.

What Are The Physical Symptoms Of Depression?

Are You Experiencing Symptoms Of Depression - Or Something Else?

Depression impacts everyone differently. Two people can meet the criteria for the same depressive disorder, but they might show depressive symptoms differently. This means that some may notice more physical symptoms than others, particularly if there are comorbid disorders such as anxiety or substance abuse. Here are some common physical symptoms of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Tiredness and fatigue. Fatigue is one of the most prominent symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD), a common depressive disorder that impacts roughly 7% of those age 18 and older in the United States.
  • Body aches and pain. Not only are body aches a potential physical symptom of depression, but those who experience chronic pain are at a higher risk of depression. Up to 85% of those who live with chronic pain meet the criteria for severe depression. You may experience vague aches or more chronic and severe aches.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Research suggests a link between depression, anxiety, digestive issues, and diagnosable digestive disorders, which include but are not limited to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Changes in appetite. Some people who live with depression notice that they eat more than usual, whereas others experience a loss of appetite. This can result in weight gain or weight loss, or even eating disorders in more extreme cases.
  • Slowed psychomotor activity. Slowed bodily movements are a common symptom that some people with depression experience. Even if you don't notice this yourself, the people around you might notice this in the form of slow speech, decreased physical activity, and so on.
  • The trouble with self-care activities. Self-care activities that a person with depression might have difficulty with include brushing their hair, practicing consistent dental hygiene, showering, meal preparation, doing laundry, and more. Again, this can vary from person to person.
  • Changes in sleep. Some people who live with depression experience insomnia, typically characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. On the other hand, some people who live with depression face hypersomnia or sleep too much.

The physical symptoms of depression and those that are psychological, social, or emotional can affect daily life in various ways. For example, fatigue or low energy can make maintaining work, family, or school-related responsibilities pretty tough. Similarly, sleep problems can lead to sleep deprivation, which may have serious consequences. Depression can also increase the risk of various physical health complications, including heart disease, as well as increase the risk of developing other mental illness, such as anxiety. The above list is not by any means complete; there are a variety of other depression symptoms, emotional as well as physical, that may be experienced depending on the severity of depression, the individual, and circumstances.

Note that some of the possible physical symptoms of depression may also be attributed to conditions and concerns outside of depression. It is important to talk with your doctor to get individualized guidance and rule out any other possible causes or diagnoses.

Physical Health Conditions And Depression

There are physical symptoms, like those above, that can be a direct result of a depressive disorder. However, there's a link between existing physical health conditions and the development of depression, too. Physical illness is a potential risk factor for depression alongside other risk factors, such as adverse childhood experiences and family history. Higher depression rates are seen in people with rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, cancer, heart disease, heart attacks, and other conditions. Mental health therapy is known to support symptom management in people with a variety of different physical health conditions and address various mental health and life concerns.

The symptoms of physical health conditions, alongside other possible concerns related to physical health conditions, like uncertainty and increased financial stress, most certainly can impact your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Physical symptoms can be isolating and stressful at times, so it is important to have support from others. This can be true whether you do or do not live with depression. Just as therapy is affiliated with improved symptom management in physical health conditions or concerns, social support is.

What Can I Do About The Physical Symptoms Of Depression?

Is it possible for the physical symptoms of depression to dissipate? Just as psychological, emotional, and social symptoms can improve, so can the physical symptoms of depression with treatment. Treatments for depression may include but are not limited to various forms of psychotherapy, some of which are short-term, whereas others may take longer medication. Interestingly, some antidepressant medications are also used for treatment of physical health concerns, such as pain or insomnia. Treatment can vary depending on the severity of depression, the symptoms experienced, and the presence or any other comorbid conditions that can present alongside depression, such as substance abuse issues, chronic pain, or anxiety. Please consult with your doctor before considering any medication options or changing your medication treatment regime.

Support groups can also be a beneficial supplement to depression treatment. They are available for people who live with depression themselves and loved ones of those who live with depression, like family or romantic partners. If you have a physical health condition in addition to a depressive disorder, you may be able to find a support group designated for those who live with the same condition. If you have a comorbid condition such as substance abuse, there are many depression support groups that focus on that, as well. Support groups, which may be held virtually or in person, are often free and may be led by peers or professionals. You can find a support group by searching the web or asking a provider for a recommendation.

Above all else, what matters is that you reach out for help when you need it. While it may take time to find the right care for you or the right combination of treatments for depression, symptom management and improved quality of life are achievable.

How Do I Know If I Have Depression?

Alongside the physical symptoms of depression, you may notice other signs of depression. Other non-physical signs of depression might include a lack of interest in activities you'd typically enjoy, a low or depressed mood, emotional numbness, excessive crying, becoming irritable or agitated more easily than usual, development of an eating disorder, trouble with substance abuse, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, isolation from other people, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts**, and/or difficulty with focus or concentration.

**If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide or is otherwise in need of immediate support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting "HOME" to the number 741741.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line are available 24/7.

There are several different kinds of depression outside of major depression, also known as clinical depression. These include persistent depressive disorder (PDD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (sometimes called seasonal affect disorder), and postpartum depression. Each diagnosis under the category of depressive disorders has a different set of criteria. Other concerns may also lead to symptoms affiliated with depressive disorders or periods of depression. For example, bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating mania or hypomania and depression episodes.

Suppose you notice the symptoms of depression in yourself. In that case, it's important to speak with a medical or mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and guidance or refer you to someone who can do so. The first step to receiving a diagnosis will often be to make an appointment with a medical doctor, such as a psychiatrist or your primary care physician (PCP). If needed, they can prescribe medication to help with depression treatment, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which essentially work to help balance serotonin levels in the brain. These professionals may also be able to provide you with a referral to a therapist or counselor if desired or if they/you feel it would be a helpful addition to treatment. Alternatively, you can search the web to find a therapist, contact your insurance company to see what they cover, look for low-income resources that are local to you, or try online therapy. Whether you see a medical doctor, a therapist, or both, the American Psychiatric Association stresses that it is of paramount importance to be completely open and transparent about any symptoms you are experiencing, as well as information that could be related such as childhood trauma, a family history of depression, and so on. These professionals are not there to judge, but to help, and treatment tends to be more effective (and accurate) if they have as much of the picture as possible.

You don't need a diagnosis of depression or any other mental health condition to start seeing a therapist. Therapy can help individuals with various concerns, from mental health conditions like depressive disorders to other challenges, like life stress, grief, social relationships, and more. Whether you live with depression or need support in another area, therapy is an option to consider.

Online Therapy

Are You Experiencing Symptoms Of Depression - Or Something Else?

Clinical psychiatry research shows that online therapy is an effective treatment in reducing depression symptoms. It is convenient, but online therapy is also often regarded as a more option for mental health therapy and treatment. This is the case for several different reasons. Not only can online therapy be more cost-effective, but it is a convenient form of clinical management for depression. It can allow individuals to connect with a therapist from virtually anywhere with a reliable internet connection. BetterHelp is a well-known online therapy platform with over 20,000 independent, licensed therapists who hold various specialties and areas of expertise, including depression and other concerns. Just take a short questionnaire, and we'll match you with a professional based on your answers. You can change plans, switch therapists, or cancel services at any point in time if needed when you use BetterHelp. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

Are you interested in online therapy? Sign up for BetterHelp to get started, or look at our website's FAQs and therapist reviews to learn more about how we can help.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What physically happens during depression?
What are three physical symptoms of depressive episodes?
What are signs and symptoms of depression of physical look?
What are 5 major symptoms of depression?
Does depression change your face?
What will happen if you don't treat depression?
Does depression make your body feel heavy?
Can depression make you feel physical pain?
Can depression make you dizzy?
What are some examples of physical symptoms?

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