What Are The Physical Effects Of Depression?

By Michael Puskar

Updated August 30, 2019

Reviewer Dawn Brown

Depression is a common mental condition that can mentally make us feel sad and lose motivation, but it can also affect our bodies significantly and can contribute to additional disorders. This article will discuss these physical symptoms as well as the long term effects of depression so that you can recognize the signs and start treatment as soon as possible.

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Sleep Disturbances

Everyone needs sleep to recover and function properly, but depression can interfere with people's sleeping habits, which can have many health consequences such as [1]:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • An impaired immune system
  • Metabolic changes

However, a lack of sleep caused by depression can also contribute to the issue by negatively impacting one's mood and their cognitive performance. Insomnia is often closely related with depression, and it can either be a side-effect of it or a precursor to the condition. [2]

Approximately 75 percent of patients with depressed effects have symptoms of insomnia, and it can severely reduce a person's quality of life and increase his or her risk of suicide. [3]

A significant portion of depressed patients also experiences hypersomnia, which can refer to an excessive amount of time sleeping as well as daytime sleepiness. It is most commonly seen in 40 percent of patients under the age of 30 and can co-exist with insomnia. [3]

People who are depressed may sleep for too long and are vulnerable to missing class, work, and other important appointments, and still will not feel like they are adequately rested during the day. This can lead to falling asleep at inappropriate times, or even at the wheel of a vehicle, leading to an accident.

Sleep disturbances in depression can largely be attributed to the disruption and desynchronization of the circadian and homeostatic processes and must be managed in order to combat depression. [3]

This is typically done through a combination of prescribed medication from a doctor and directly addressing the sleep habits and hygiene that cause insomnia or hypersomnia.

Eating Habits

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Depression is often connected with how people choose to consume food, which can also have a variety of health implications.

A common depression effect is the tendency to eat excessively, especially unhealthy foods. Binge-eating disorder (BED) is a condition listed in the DSM that is defined as [4]:

  • eating, in a discrete timeframe (e.g., within any 2-hour timeframe), an amount of food that is certainly larger compared to what most people would eat during the same period of time and under the same circumstances
  • a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode.

People may also exhibit behaviors such as eating at a rapid pace, eating until too full, eating too much when not hungry, and eating alone. They will also tend to perceive themselves negatively about their eating habits. [4]

While BED is a separate condition from major depression, they can be comorbid with one another; in fact, conditions like depression and anxiety are highly influential in whether a person binge eats or not. [4]

Overeating due to depression is particularly dangerous because of the likelihood of obesity and the health effects that come with that such as cardiovascular issues and diabetes.

Conversely, people can also experience a loss of appetite as one of their depression effects, and may not finish their meals, push back their eating times, or skip it entirely, which can result in unplanned weight loss and malnutrition.

For both types of individuals who either overeat or undereat, brain imaging suggests that the reward circuitry may be responsible. For example, when presented with food stimuli, those with higher appetites will have increased activity in this area, whereas those who struggle to eat have a reduced response to these cues. [5]

Digestive Problems

Related to how we consume food is how our body expels it, and those with clinical depression might be at risk for digestive problems or are experiencing them already.

The brain and the gut are closely intertwined and can send signals to one another. This is sometimes referred to as the gut-microbiome-brain axis.

For example, if you have ever been nervous, there is a pretty good chance that you have experienced the sensation of "butterflies in your stomach."

This is just one example, but various factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression can all negatively "affect the movement and contractions of the GI tract, make inflammation worse, and make you prone to infections. [6]

Multiple studies have linked psychological disorders like depression to chronic digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis (UC) and that those with the aforementioned conditions have higher rates of depression and anxiety. [7]

Fortunately, because of the connection between the gut and the brain, people can find relief for their digestive problems by managing stress and treating their depression and other possible comorbid conditions, like anxiety.

Multiple studies have suggested that those who tried psychological-based approaches, such as therapy, had demonstrated significant improvements compared to using only medicine.

However, on the opposite end, it has also been noted that not attending therapy and participating in unhealthy lifestyle activities can result in poorer outcomes and even make the conditions worse. [6] [7]

Body Pain And Discomfort

Many people with depression may experience stiffness, aches, and pain in their joints, muscles, and organs. Unfortunately, these depression effects sometimes get overlooked because they tend to be associated with somatic illnesses.

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Because of this, it can also make the condition hard to diagnose, especially if a patient visits a doctor and only reports these symptoms, and not any psychological signs such as feelings of sadness and hopelessness. [8]

In a study performed by the World Health Organization, 1146 patients from 14 countries met the criteria for being diagnosed with depression, and 69 percent of them reported exclusively about their physical effects of depression. [8]

Despite its tendency to go undiagnosed, it is believed that visiting the doctor and reporting a high number of physical symptoms is indicative of a mood disorder, and the more painful they are, the more severe the depression is [8].

This is because pain can have a biological component to it, and it is not limited to external causes. Serotonin and norepinephrine are not only neurotransmitters that affect one's mood; they also influence pain as well, and when they are dysregulated, this can cause depression and physical symptoms. [8]

To address this, antidepressants, especially SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), are often prescribed to those who have depression because they can do two things at once - improve mood and provide relief to body pain.


Depression is not confined to just the mind. Those with the condition commonly report the physical effects of depression, like the ones discussed in this article.

If you are experiencing primarily physical symptoms, it is advised that you visit your doctor or a psychiatrist to get diagnosed and started on a treatment plan, even if you are not feeling sad.

First-line treatment for clinical depression often consists of antidepressant medication, but when combined with therapy, even better outcomes can be achieved, and the long term effects of depression can be managed, which is evident with those who were dealing with chronic digestive issues.

Depression effects can be challenging to deal with on your own, and many people mistakenly do not get treated, making the situation worse.

At BetterHelp.com, licensed and professional therapists are available online to help you through your depression, which can then not only make you feel better mentally but physically as well. Counselors cannot prescribe medication, but they can assist you with advice and strategies for depression and other mental conditions.

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To learn more about depression, including the mental symptoms and statistics regarding it, BetterHelp also offers a large assortment of articles, like this one, that is designed to inform and encourage those with depression to seek help. Getting better starts with education, and by finding treatment, you are putting yourself in the best position possible to living the life that you deserve.

Physical effects of depression


  1. Alhola, P., & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 3(5), 553-567.
  2. Fava, M. (2004). Daytime Sleepiness and Insomnia as Correlates of Depression [Abstract]. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 65(Suppl16).
  3. Nutt, D., Wilson, S., & Paterson, L. (2008). Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 10(3), 329-336.
  4. Peterson, R. E., Latendresse, S. J., Bartholome, L. T., Warren, C. S., & Raymond, N. C. (2012). Binge Eating Disorder Mediates Links between Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, and Caloric Intake in Overweight and Obese Women. Journal of Obesity, 2012, 1-8. doi:10.1155/2012/407103
  5. Simmons, W. K., Burrows, K., Avery, J. A., Kerr, K. L., Bodurka, J., Savage, C. R., & Drevets, W. C. (2016). Depression-Related Increases and Decreases in Appetite: Dissociable Patterns of Aberrant Activity in Reward and Interoceptive Neurocircuitry. American Journal of Psychiatry, 173(4), 418-428. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15020162
  6. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The gut-brain connection. Retrieved May 26, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
  7. Shah, E., Rezaie, A., Riddle, M., & Pimentel, M. (2014). Psychological disorders in gastrointestinal disease: Epiphenomenon, cause or consequence? Annals of Gastroenterology, 27(3).
  8. Trivedi, M. H. (2004). The Link Between Depression and Physical Symptoms. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(Suppl1), 12-16.

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