Depression is technically a mental disorder but also affects your physical health. It may impact everything from your heart, kidney, nervous system, and immune system health.

Pink splashes on a picture of a person walking on the beach.Share on Pinterest
Rika Hayashi/Getty Images

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. At least 6% of U.S. adults had a major depressive episode annually in 2020.

Learn more about some of the most common symptoms of depression and how depression can affect your entire body, especially if left untreated.

Feeling sad or anxious at times is a normal part of life. But if these feelings last more than a few weeks, they could be symptoms of depression.

Clinical depression, especially left untreated, can interrupt your day-to-day life and cause a ripple effect of additional symptoms.

Major depression (a more advanced form of depression) is considered a serious medical condition that may dramatically affect your quality of life.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DMS-5) says that to qualify for a diagnosis of major depression, a person has to experience at least five symptoms for longer than two weeks.

Learn more about the criteria for major depression. More detail follows below.

Share on Pinterest
Illustration by Erica Singleton

Depression can cause a lot of symptoms within the central nervous system, many of which are easy to dismiss or ignore.

Older adults may also have difficulty identifying cognitive changes because it’s easy to dismiss the signs of depression as related to “getting older.”

According to the American Psychological Association, older adults with depression have more difficulties with memory loss and reaction time during everyday activities compared with younger adults with depression.

Symptoms of depression include overwhelming sadness, grief, and a sense of guilt. It may be described as a feeling of emptiness or hopelessness. Some people may find it difficult to put these feelings into words.

It may also be difficult for them to understand as symptoms can manifest and cause physical reactions. Frequent episodes of crying may be a symptom of depression, although not everyone cries if they’re depressed.

You may also feel tired all the time or have trouble sleeping at night. Other symptoms include:

  • irritability
  • anger
  • loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure
  • headaches

There may also be chronic body aches, and the pain may not respond to medication. This is also sometimes an effect of certain neurological diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

People with depression may have trouble maintaining a typical work schedule or fulfilling social obligations. This could be due to symptoms like an inability to concentrate, memory problems, and difficulty making decisions.

Some people who are depressed may turn to alcohol or substance misuse, which may increase instances of unsafe behavior.

Someone with depression may consciously avoid talking about how they feel or try to mask the problem. People experiencing depression may also find themselves preoccupied with thoughts of death or hurting themselves.

Research shows people that the risk of suicide in people with mental disorders like depression is 5-8%.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.

If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.

Was this helpful?

While depression is often thought of as a mental health condition, it also plays a heavy role in appetite and nutrition. Some people cope by overeating or bingeing. This can lead to weight gain and obesity-related conditions like type 2 diabetes.

You may even lose your appetite entirely or fail to eat the right amount of nutritious food. A sudden loss of interest in eating in older adults can lead to a condition called geriatric anorexia.

Eating problems can lead to symptoms that include:

  • stomachaches
  • cramps
  • constipation
  • malnutrition

Medication may not improve these symptoms if a person doesn’t eat the correct diet. Sweets and foods high in carbohydrates may provide immediate relief, but the effects are often temporary.

It’s important to maintain a healthy diet when experiencing depression. Nutrients are essential to making sure the body’s neurotransmitters are firing right.

Depression and stress are closely related. Stress hormones speed heart rate and make blood vessels tighten, putting your body in a prolonged state of emergency. Over time, this can lead to heart disease.

Recurrence of cardiovascular problems is linked more closely to depression than to other conditions like:

  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol

People ages 40-79 living with mild-to-major depression have a higher risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD) for a period of 10 years. Younger people 20-39 years old have a higher lifetime risk of developing CVD.

Depression and stress may also have a negative impact on the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and diseases.

Research shows there may be a relationship between inflammation and depression, although the exact connection is unclear.

Inflammation is linked to many health problems. Some anti-inflammatory agents have been shown to benefit some people with depression.

Depression may be more difficult to detect in children who can’t articulate their symptoms.

You may want to look out for behaviors that include persistent clinginess, worry, and unwillingness to attend school without improvement over time. Children may also be excessively irritable and negative.

In addition, teens are particularly susceptible to depression.

About 4.1 million adolescents ages 12-17 in the U.S. had at least one episode of depression in 2020, which is about 17%. It’s more common in adolescent females and adolescents who self-identified as belonging to two or more races.

Symptoms of depression in teens may include:

  • unusually poor grades
  • excessive use of social media or computer games
  • notable, negative change in behavior at home or at school
  • self-harm

Learn more about depression in teens.

Are sex and gender the same thing?

People often use the terms sex and gender interchangeably, but they have different meanings:

  • “Sex” refers to the physical characteristics that differentiate male, female, and intersex bodies.
  • “Gender” refers to a person’s identity and how they feel inside. Examples include binary, nonbinary, agender, bigender, genderfluid, pangender, and trans. A person’s gender identity may be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Learn more about sex and gender.

Was this helpful?

Here you can find some answers to additional questions about the impact of depression on the body:

Does depression cause permanent brain damage?

Scans of the brain of people living with depression show significant changes in areas of the brain like the frontal lobe, hippocampus, temporal lobe, and amygdala.

Is depression a chemical imbalance?

A chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin, can play a role in depression, but the causes of the condition are often more complex.

Other factors that play a role are:

  • genetic history of depression
  • hormones
  • substance use disorders (SUD)
  • other medical conditions
  • environmental factors like trauma

Learn more about the causes of depression.

Depression is a mental health disorder that can also have an impact on your physical health. It may affect your cardiovascular and digestive systems and your immune system.

In addition, it can significantly negatively impact your quality of life. If you or someone you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, know that help is available.

It’s good to speak with your doctor and see a counselor or psychologist. If someone is contemplating suicide, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 as soon as possible.