Depression is an extremely common mood disorder that has affected hundreds of millions of people since 1990. While the disorder in itself is a burden, it often comes with more psychological and physical consequences, especially in chronic cases. The relationship between depression and other illnesses is bidirectional. On one hand – depression affects one’s physical well-being, on the other hand, a prolonged physical illness can lead to symptoms of depression.

Health and Depression: Emotional Distress

Distress is something that forces a person to adapt their way of living or take action to relieve the stress; it can be both physical and emotional. Considering health issues can have an impact on many different facets of a person’s life, they all have the potential to be stressful in some way. The main reactions to emotional disturbance include depression, anger, and anxiety. As a result, a constant stressor, such as a chronic or fatal illness or an illness with long-term repercussions, has a higher likelihood of causing depression in the patient since it clouds a person’s perception of the meaning of their existence (Goodwin, 2006). It is possible that the patient is concerned about the side effects of treatment and how they will affect their daily life; for example, they may begin to experience troubles with body image as a result of amputation, significant shifts in weight, or hair loss (Fingeret et al., 2014). Moreover, the social and financial issues associated with a costly treatment places even more of a cognitive load on an individual, continuously increasing their risk of developing an affective disorder.

Health and Depression: Physical Distress

Cocksedge et al. (2014) emphasize that physical pain and depression are interconnected and can affect each other. Those experiencing pain are more likely to experience depression, while in turn, depression can exacerbate the severity of pain, creating a cycle. 

Moreover, according to GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome), due to the body naturally being exhausted as it continuously accelerates its functions as a response to persistent stress, depression can be the product of a chain reaction.

Your body can react in different ways to a range of treatments. Some treatments, like those for cancer, prove to be especially influential and even toxic. These often strip a person of their immune system, triggering an inflammatory response and causing complex chemical brain reactions, potentially affecting your mood and emotion.

 A Combined Treatment

I will always repeat a reminder: psychological and physical well-being is equally important, and they often depend on each other. While there are a variety of treatments for depression, research suggests a few ways one may elevate a combination of somatic and psychological symptoms: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Mindful-Based Cognitive Therapy (e.g. meditation, mindfulness sessions, etc.)
  • Strong Social Support, is nearly always a moderative factor between mental illness and resilience
  • Target physical and psychological issues synchronically

Because depression entails physical symptoms and impairs one’s cognitive ability and desire to recover, its treatment is critical, as it may potentially aggravate a person’s physical state in addition to their primary health problems. 

Finally, I would like to say that while healing is a heavy labor, and sometimes it might feel like the world is closing in on you – I wholeheartedly urge you to put your well-being first and never shy away from reaching out for help.

by Diana Sultanova, Mental Health Intern

References

Cocksedge, K.A., Simon, C., & Shankar, R. (2014). A difficult combination: chronic physical illness, depression, and pain. British Journal of General Practice, 64(626), 440-441. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp14X681241

Fingeret, M. C., Teo, I., & Epner, D. E. (2014). Managing body image difficulties of adult cancer patients: lessons from available research. Cancer, 120(5), 633–641.    https://doi.org/10.1002/cncr.28469

Goodwin G. M. (2006). Depression and associated physical diseases and symptoms. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(2), 259–265. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2006.8.2/mgoodwin