Bad moods, good moods, sadness, cheerfulness — they’re all a part of life, and they come and go. But if your mood gets in the way of doing daily activities, or if you seem emotionally stuck, you may have depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Both depression and PTSD can affect your mood, interests, energy levels, and emotions. Yet, they’re caused by different things.
It is possible to have both of these conditions at once. In fact, your risk for having one increases if you have the other.
Read on to learn more about PTSD and depression, how they’re alike, and how they’re different.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stressor-related disorder that can develop after a traumatic or stressful event.
This can occur after witnessing or experiencing a disturbing event, including physical or sexual assault, natural disaster, war, accidents, and domestic violence.
Symptoms of PTSD don’t typically show up immediately after the event. Instead, they may appear several weeks or months later, after any physical scars have likely healed.
common ptsd symptoms
- Re-experiencing memories. This may include flashbacks or intrusive memories about the event, nightmares, and unwanted memories.
- Avoidance. You may try to keep from talking or thinking about the event. To do this, you may avoid people, places, or events that remind you of the stressor.
- Mood swings and negative thoughts. Moods change regularly, but if you have PTSD, you may feel down, numb, and hopeless frequently. You may also be hard on yourself, with a great deal of guilt or self-loathing. You might also feel detached from other people, including friends and family. This can make PTSD symptoms worse.
- Changes in behaviors and reactions. PTSD can cause unusual emotional outbursts, like being easily startled or frightened, angry, or irrational. It may also cause people to act in ways that are self-destructive. This includes speeding, using drugs, or drinking too much alcohol.
PTSD can be diagnosed by your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Your primary care provider will begin with a physical exam to be sure that your symptoms aren’t being caused by a physical illness.
Once a physical issue has been ruled out, they may refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation. Your doctor may diagnose PTSD if you’ve experienced symptoms of the disorder for more than four weeks and have a difficult time completing daily tasks because of your distress and emotions.
Some doctors will refer individuals with PTSD to a mental health specialist. These trained healthcare providers include psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. They can help you find treatment.
Depression is a chronic mood disorder. It’s more intense and lasts longer than just a day of sadness or “the blues.” Indeed, depression can have a significant impact on both your health and your well-being.
Your doctor may diagnose depression if you have five or more symptoms for at least two weeks straight.
symptoms of depression
- feeling sad or hopeless
- feeling tired or not having enough energy
- sleeping too much or too little
- getting no pleasure from activities that were once enjoyable
- having a difficult time focusing and making decisions
- experiencing feelings of worthlessness
- contemplating suicide or thinking about death frequently
Like PTSD, your doctor will likely be able to diagnose you after a physical exam and mental health exam to rule out any other possible causes.
Your healthcare provider may choose to treat you, or they may refer you to a mental health specialist.
It is possible to have both PTSD and depression simultaneously. They’re frequently confused for one another because of similar symptoms.
symptoms of both ptsd and depression
PTSD and depression can share these symptoms:
- trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- emotional outbursts, including anger or aggression
- loss of interest in activities
Research suggests people with PTSD are more likely to have depression. Likewise, individuals with depressive mood disorders are also more likely to experience more anxiety or stress.
Deciphering between unique symptoms can help you and your doctor find the right treatment.
For example, people with PTSD may have greater anxiety around specific people, places, or things. This is likely the result of the traumatic event.
Depression, on the other hand, may not be related to any issue or event that can be pinpointed. Yes, life events can make depression worse, but depression often occurs and worsens independently of any life events.
Traumatic events can lead to PTSD. The signs of this disorder typically show up several weeks after the distressing event. What’s more, depression can follow traumatic events, too.
People who have depression or a depressive disorder are also more likely to have symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
Though PTSD and depression are unique disorders, they may be treated in similar ways.
With both conditions, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Letting either condition linger — and likely worsen — for months or even years can do harm to both your physical and mental health.
Online therapy options
Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.
The goal of PTSD treatment is to ease symptoms, tamp down emotional reactions, and eliminate crippling avoidance.
The most common treatments for PTSD (depending on symptoms and prescriber preference) can include:
- Prescription medications: These include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicines, and sleep aids.
- Support groups: These are meetings in which you can discuss your feelings and learn from people who share similar experiences.
- Talk therapy: This is a one-on-one type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help you learn to express thoughts and develop healthy responses.
Like PTSD, treatment for depression focuses on easing symptoms and helping restore a positive quality of life.
The most common treatments for depression (depending on symptoms and prescriber preference) can include:
- Prescription medication. Medications include antidepressants, antipsychotic medicines, anti-anxiety medicines, and sleep aids.
- Psychotherapy. Talk therapy or CBT, which helps you learn how to cope with feelings and emotions that seem to worsen the symptoms of depression.
- Group or family therapy. This type of support group is for people who are chronically depressed or family members living with depressed individuals.
- Lifestyle changes. These include healthy choices, including exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep, all of which can help ease the symptoms and complications of depression.
- Light therapy. Controlled exposure to white light may help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.
PTSD and depression
As you can see, doctors use many of the same treatments for both PTSD and depression. This includes prescription medications, talk therapy, group therapy, and lifestyle improvements.
Healthcare providers who treat PTSD are typically also trained to treat depression.
here to help now
You are not alone. Help may be one phone call or text away. If you feel suicidal, alone, or overwhelmed, call 911 or contact one of these 24-hour hotlines:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
- US Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or text 838255
- Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741
If you believe you have either PTSD or depression, make an appointment to see a healthcare provider. They can recommend or refer you to a mental health specialist for evaluation and treatment.
If you’re a veteran and need help, call the Veteran Center Call Center hotline at 1-877-927-8387. At this number, you’ll get to talk with another combat veteran. Family members can also speak to other family members of vets with PTSD and depression.
find a counselor in your area
- United Way Helpline (which can help you find a therapist, healthcare, or basic necessities): Call 1-800-233-4357
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Call 800-950-NAMI, or text “NAMI” to 741741
- Mental Health America (MHA): Call 800-237-TALK or text MHA to 741741
If you don’t have a doctor or mental health specialist you see regularly in your area, call your local hospital’s patient outreach office.
They can help you find a doctor or provider near you that treats the conditions you’re seeking to cover.
Bad moods are a part of human nature, but chronic bad moods are not.
People with PTSD and depression may experience long-term mood and anxiety issues as a result of either condition — some people can even have both.
Early treatment for both PTSD and depression can help you find effective results. It will also help you prevent long-term or chronic complications of either condition.
If you think you have symptoms of either disorder, talk with your healthcare provider. They can help you begin the process to find answers for your symptoms.