Depression and Other Illnesses

In my experience, I have seen links between depression and many other illnesses, such as anxiety, sleep disorders, and eating disorders. But I had no idea just how many other illnesses (both physical and mental) are connected to depression until I was researching for this article!

This research suggests to me that depression is a much more common mental ailment than many are aware of, and that it is actually a mental component in more complex physical illnesses as well. If you're wondering if your illness is really depression or something else, this article may provide the insight you need.

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Anxiety | Bipolar Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Eating Disorders | Fibromyalgia | Sleep Disorders

Depression and Anxiety

Anxiety is a "natural" reaction to stress, but sometimes it can snowball into something that takes over your whole life, eating away at mind, body, and spirit. It can occur as a result of inborn genetics or from environmental factors--and occasionally both (as in my case). It is not merely "worrying," but a constant state of stress over the most random things; it can take away your ability to concentrate, and leave you tired and yet restless. It can be triggered by things in your environment, or it can come from unwanted panicked thoughts.

In my experience (which is not everyone's experience), depression and anxiety are very closely linked. Most if not all of my depressive episodes were caused by stress/anxiety in some form, and I have seen anxiety affect my father the same way. After a while, anxiety seems to wear on my mind, boring a hole in my mental "wall" against the world, and then depression can slither in like a snake. Then the depression makes me anxious because I know I'm not acting like myself, but I feel so exhausted and life seems to be pointless anyway, and 'round and 'round we go.

I donít know that this happens for everyone, but from most of the people I've spoken to who have experienced both anxiety and depression, they have agreed that the two conditions feed off each other as I have described, and the research I have done tends to back that up.

MayoClinic: Is it possible to have depression and anxiety at the same time?
AnxietyCoach: Anxiety and Depression: Telling Them Apart
FreedomFromFear.org: About Anxiety and Depression

Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Depression is one half of bipolar disorder (also called "manic depression"), and according to my (limited) research, bipolar individuals often feel much more extreme depression than typical depression sufferers. With bipolar disorder often making oneís life into an emotional rollercoaster, the downswings into hopelessness and lack of interest in anything can feel more intense compared to the highs of happiness (and irritability) that have come before it.

However, it is important to note that some forms of bipolar disorder look more like depression--the mania is sometimes so mild that it can be mistaken as "normal" functioning, as opposed to the deep nothingness of depression. Bipolar disorder, in its more severe forms, can also come wth hallucinations, anxiety, and delusions, as well as substance abuse--depression is but one facet of its symptoms. The cycle between mania and depression can happen quickly ("rapid-cycling") or slowly (regular bipolar), too. So it's important to be diagnosed professionally, to determine whether the depression one is feeling is merely depression, or is part of bipolar disorder.

NIMH: Bipolar Disorder in Adults
HelpGuide: Bipolar Disorder Signs and Symptoms
DBSAlliance: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: Bipolar Disorder

Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Depression is one of the myriad stars in the constellation of symptoms present in PTSD--I know from personal experience. They often coexist in the same mind together, or one quickly follows the other after a traumatic event. In my case, depression was the first herald of PTSD in my childhood, followed by anxiety, irrational rage, insomnia, and hypervigilance (the overwhelming and painful awareness of the environment around me, 24/7). But above all the other symptoms I had, detachment, isolation, and suicidal thoughts ruled my life on a daily basis. This is a common experience for those who suffer comorbid depression and PTSD.

One important note: the diagnosis of PTSD, contrary to what I thought before being diagnosed, is not primarily for military service personnel, but for anyone who has witnessed/experienced trauma or suffered any form of abuse. If you're suffering with depression and nothing seems to be getting any better despite treatment, it may be time to explore your life experiences and admit to yourself any traumas or abuse that took place. Those hidden memories could be hurting you far worse than you know.

PsychologyToday: PTSD and Depression
PsychiatryAdvisor: PTSD and Comorbid Depression: Challenges of Diagnosis and Treatment
TheAtlantic: The Mothers Who Get PTSD from Childbirth

Depression and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

PMDD can be described as "severe PMS symptoms + a major, traumatic depressive episode every month," thought to be triggered by the hormonal changes of ovulation. One could even call it "monthly depression," because the symptoms sure look the same--loss of interest in activities, hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts. It has been brushed off many times as a false illness or as a purely psychosomatic illness, but according to some scientific studies, PMDD has a measurable effect on the body's ability to regulate hormones (much like regular depression), and some medications are proving helpful with the symptoms. Moreover, women who have already suffered regular depression before the onset of PMDD may experience PMDD even stronger. As if being a woman wasn't already tough!!

Some researchers believe that putting PMDD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is dangerous, because it's not really a mental illness. That in part is true, because it has physiological effects as well as mental effects. However, the chilling stories of PMDD sufferers, and the similarity of their experiences to major depression (especially the monthly suicidal thoughts), all seem to warrant the attention of psychological experts--and giving it an official place in the DSM may make healthcare professionals pay attention at last. The illness has simply not been studied enough or treated seriously enough to know quite how to treat it. As of right now, making healthy lifestyle choices such as aerobic exercise, eating better food, and receiving cognitive-behavioral therapy seem to be as helpful as medications for some women, but again, this needs further study.

XOJane: I've Got Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: Here's How I Deal With It
Harvard Health Publications: Treating PMDD
WomensMentalHealth.org: PMS & PMDD

Depression and Eating Disorders

From my research and anecdotal evidence from acquaintances, I have learned that eating disorders, primarily anorexia (severely restricting calories and starving oneself) and bulimia (vomiting and purging to reduce weight gain), can both cause depression and result from depression.

For instance, people who suffer from eating disorders usually require isolation and secrecy to hide their behavior, being both ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of the disorder. And shame, isolation, and secrecy happen to be the very conditions that depression grows in best. However, it can also work the other way--that a depressed person may begin a pattern of disordered eating as a way to find some sort of meaning in their lives again, or to make themselves feel more worthy of love and attention.

However the eating disorder or depression begins, the two illnesses share quite a bit of risk factors, such as high stress/anxiety and perfectionism, so it is likely that if a person suffers one of the two disorders, the other may follow not too far behind.

ResearchGate.net: Depression and Eating Disorders (pdf article)
EatingDisorders.org: Eating Disorders, Anxiety, and Depression
FuturesofPalmBeach: Anorexia and Depression

Depression and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia, often known simply as "fibro," is best described as "overreacting nerves," which leave the body achy and/or sensitive all over, manifesting as sore muscles, constant headaches, heat and cold sensitivity, tingling and numbness, and abdominal pain, among many other symptoms. Taken together, fibro symptoms can feel like walking around in a fog of pain all the time.

In this state, itís not hard to imagine how the mind can be affected by constant pain; physical pain can wear on the mind just like mental anxiety, and allow depression to seep in. Life feels pretty pointless when youíre hurting all the time, and so fibro seems like a fertile breeding ground for depressed thoughts. (However, some research has suggested that depression can cause fibro symptoms as well, so it's hard to say which disorder truly causes the other.)

FMNetNews: Tests Prove Fibromyalgia is Not Depression
About.com: Depression in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
WebMD: Fibromyalgia and Depression

Depression and Sleep Disorders

Depression and sleeping disorders can definitely feed off each other. Depression can either make you insomniac, with freefalls of negative existential thoughts leading straight to suicidal thinking, or it can make you sleep all the time to escape the nothingness of reality. Then again, sometimes you can start out insomniac or oversleeping, and that can cause depression because your bodyís sleep cycles get messed up. Usually, for me, long periods of insomnia are the beginning stages of depression for me, so I know firsthand how strongly sleep and depression can be linked.

Since proper sleep is so important to brain and body health overall, it's important to get treatment for sleep disorders promptly, so that you can ward off any depression that may result. Additionally, getting treatment for depression can help you sleep better, too!

SleepFoundation.org: Depression and Sleep
WebMD: Depression and Sleep Disorders
Study: Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression