Can Depression Affect an Individual’s Physical Health?

Yes, it is true that depression can affect one’s physical health. Sadly, the stigma attached to mental illness remains: These negative stereotypes affect individuals with mental health conditions because they may forego treatment, which could eventually lead to physical health issues.

Many times, a patient seeks depression treatment from his or her primary care physician. Patients may seek assistance from their doctor because of the stigma attached to seeing a mental health professional or due to limitations on his or her health insurance coverage.


Healthcare Professionals Need to Recognize and Address Depression

According to the results of a study that is published in the journal Health Affairs, doctors are not following up with patients who have been diagnosed with depression. This may be because many physicians do not take behavioral health conditions as seriously as they do physical illness.

The researchers used the results attained from 1,000 primary care facilities within the United States. These surveys were completed by physicians over a period of seven years (between 2006 to 2013). These surveys were designed to examine physicians’ strategies for the treatment of patients who have depression in comparison to the strategies used to treat physical health conditions such as asthma, congestive heart failure and diabetes.

Patients who had physical ailments received treatment that followed the proper protocol outlined for his or her chronic condition. For example, physicians taught patients about their conditions and reminded them about specific treatment plans; however, patients who had depression did not receive that level of care.

The study did find that one of the reasons primary care physicians neglected to provide depression care management involved issues related to insurance coverage; furthermore, time constraints also made providing depression care management challenging.


Depression is a Recurring Disease

Sagar Parikh is the associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center. Parikh states that depression recurs: When depression is there, it frequently lasts for months at a time. Depression must be actively managed with multiple treatments. While the majority of people can recover, they remain vulnerable to a relapse. For this reason, an individual needs to manage his or her depression through healthy lifestyle choices.

Parikh states that the body and the brain are connected, and treating mental health conditions reduces physical pain; furthermore, it can also have an impact on an individual’s physical health.


How Depression Affects One’s Physical Health

Depression can lead to crippling physical symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal problems to headaches and loss of motivation. Depression can put an individual at an increased risk for suffering a stroke or cardiovascular disease; additionally, chronic pain may become worse.


Depression in Adults Following a Heart Attack

The National Institute of Mental Health states that within a period of 12 months, almost 7 percent of adults suffer from major depression; furthermore, 20 percent of individuals who have had a heart attack suffer from major depression directly thereafter.

Barry Jacobs is a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania. Jacobs states that besides undermining an individual’s quality of life, depression may severely inhibit the recovery process. When an individual is depressed, he or she may feel helpless and hopeless. This causes him or her to have less drive to engage in the activities that could help with recovery. In addition, Jacobs states that many people eat foods that are high in carbohydrates to make themselves feel better; therefore, when people are depressed, they are more likely to consume foods high in carbohydrates, which is not the best choice for an individual who is recovering from a heart attack.


Depression Increases the Risk of Having Another Cardiac Event

Jacobs says that if an individual is depressed following a heart attack, his or her risk of suffering another cardiac event is higher and the next cardiac event could be fatal. According to Karina Davidson, who is a clinical psychologist in New York City, people who are diagnosed with major depression or individuals indicating that they are suffering with major depression following a heart attack face nearly twice the risk of having another heart attack; furthermore, these individuals are more likely to die prematurely.


Treating Depression May Reduce Cardiovascular Risk

Research suggests that treating depression may reduce cardiovascular risk. A study that analyzed more than 5,300 patients who suffered with varying degrees of depression (moderate to severe) found that the individuals who took antidepressant medication reduced their risk of dying, having a stroke or developing coronary artery disease by 53 percent (when compared to their study counterparts who did not take statins or antidepressants).

Heidi May is a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah. She states that she was not surprised with the results of the study. May says that studies have continually shown that depression is one of the independent risk factors for heart disease.


Systematic Changes May Increase the Likelihood a Patient Will Seek Treatment for Behavioral Health Conditions

Patrick W. Corrigan is a psychological scientist at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He states that the discrimination and prejudice associated with mental illness is just as disabling as the illness itself is. He continues stating that these views undermine the people who are attaining their personal goals by dissuading them from pursuing effective mental health treatments. Although a more accepting society will not magically cure mental illness, it could help with the management of depression.

Trina McMillin

Trina brings to Relias a wealth of knowledge and personal experience related to the medical field, dental issues, mental health, and physical therapy techniques. She has worked in various positions over her career which includes being a phlebotomist, laboratory assistant and medical transcriptionist.

Connect with Us

to find out more about our training and resources