Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mental health issues like depression commonly occur together. People living with IBS have a higher chance of experiencing anxiety and depression than people without the disorder.

IBS is a medical condition that effects the gastrointestinal tract and causes symptoms like stomach cramps and diarrhea. Although the exact cause is unknown, medication and diet changes can often ease symptoms.

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a common and serious mood disorder. It causes persistent negative feelings and affects how you think, feel, and handle daily activities.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can occur along with other serious illnesses like IBS, making these conditions worse.

The authors of a 2023 review indicate that 29% of people living with IBS also experience symptoms of depression. The review describes a possible bidirectional link between the two conditions.

People experiencing signs of anxiety, depression, or both with no prior IBS symptoms sometimes develop gastrointestinal issues as time goes by.

The reverse can also occur. It’s not uncommon for people diagnosed with IBS without anxiety or depression comorbidities to experience these mental health symptoms over time.

IBS and the onset of depression

IBS may be a diagnosis of the digestive tract, but its implications extend beyond gastrointestinal symptoms.

The disruptive nature of IBS can affect your ability to socialize, work, and travel. You might experience stigma from people who don’t understand IBS or its impact.

As you navigate these issues, any delays in a diagnosis leading to effective treatment can increase your chance of experiencing symptoms of depression.

Depression and the onset of IBS

Depression may lead to IBS symptoms in some people.

A 2024 study followed people with and without depression to assess the occurrence of IBS. After a median 12.9-year follow-up, the rate of incident IBS was higher in the group with depression than in the group without.

Other research suggests that anxiety and depression can contribute to the initiation, development, and progression of IBS because of how they:

  • alter visceral sensation
  • change the microenvironment of the gut
  • influence the gut-brain axis

If you’re experiencing depression, a psychiatrist or psychologist might suggest treatments such as:

Your medication for IBS might help your depression and vice versa. You should speak with your doctor about your medication options.

In addition to helping depression, some antidepressants like TCAs can inhibit the activity of neurons controlling the intestines. This may reduce abdominal pain and diarrhea. Your doctor might prescribe:

SSRIs are a medication for depression, but they may also help with IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain and constipation. Your doctor might prescribe:

There are also psychological treatments that may help ease IBS symptoms, including:

Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) also may be a treatment option for co-occurring IBS and depression. Altered gut microbiota can contribute to psychiatric disorders through the gut-brain axis, the neural connection between the brain and gastrointestinal tract. FMT can restore gut microbiota to a more functional state to ease both IBS and depression symptoms.

The combination of IBS and depression isn’t uncommon. If you think you may be experiencing depression, talk with your doctor. They can do diagnostic tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. If you do have depression, they might suggest that you visit a mental health professional.

You can also contact your community health center, local mental health association, your insurance plan, or look online to find a mental health professional in your area.