When you hear the phrase "depression hurts," you probably think only of the mental health repercussions. But depression can hurt beyond what you might expect.

How Depression Hurts Mental Health

Depression can taint every aspect of life. It distorts how a person perceives and responds to himself and the world around him.

A depressed person may feel varying degrees of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, shame and worthlessness. He may experience self-loathing and low self-esteem and may be highly critical of his own feelings and behavior. In severe cases, a person may have suicidal thoughts.

As a result, performing everyday tasks can become overwhelming. It is also common for a depressed person to lose interest in activities that were once enjoyed, such as hobbies.

Physical Toll of Depression

Depression hurts physically, too. Many people with depression eat an unhealthy diet. Some seek solace in junk food and overeat; others eat too little. In both cases, changes in eating habits may result in inadequate consumption of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, leading to reduced physical stamina and mental agility.

In addition, depressed individuals are more likely to experience physical pain, according to studies. Case in point: In a 2011 study, depressed patients were asked to complete surveys about their depression symptoms, pain and perceived quality of life. The patients then received six weeks of depression treatment and were re-assessed. Remarkably, the patients who experienced mood improvement following the 6-week treatment also reported reduced pain.

The relationship between depression and pain is a complex one. One reason why these symptoms are so closely related is that both depression and pain are influenced by the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin. In someone who is depressed, levels of these hormones are unbalanced, contributing not only to depression but possibly to pain and other physical problems. Muscle pain can result from stress-related tension, while dizziness and lightheadedness are sometimes the result of another stress response, hyperventilation.

The physical symptoms of depression range widely and may include pain in the neck, back pain, and pain in the legs or chest. Migraine headaches, digestion problems, sleep disturbances, dizziness and lightheadedness have also been reported. Depression-related pain and symptoms often have no obvious source such as a fall, injury, disease or illness.

Depression and Career Trouble

Eventually the signs, symptoms, and behaviors associated with depression are likely to begin causing problems at work. When a person is depressed, work performance may start to slide. The depressed individual might begin showing up late to work, miss deadlines, and make frequent mistakes. He or she also might begin to have relationship difficulties with colleagues.

Depression Hurts Family and Friends Too

Family and friends feel the impact of a loved one's depression. The loved one may appear distant, irritable, or angry for no reason. Sudden changes in mood and behavior, which is common in depression, can be highly confusing and frustrating. Forgetfulness, being lost in a conversation, and appearing distracted are other common behaviors.

Family members and friends, especially partners and children, might suffer after seeing their partner or parent struggling with depression, perhaps by withdrawing themselves. It may be difficult for some families coping with depression to keep the lines of communication open. It's key for families to seek help from a mental health professional and join a support group.

The Path to Healing Depression

The first step toward healing and minimizing the negative consequences of depression is talking openly and honestly with a doctor or mental health professional. Antidepressant medications are one treatment option for depression. Counseling methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help uproot deeply-ingrained negative thinking associated with depression. Recovery from depression takes time, but there are plenty of resources that offer help to a person with depression and their loved ones.

Depression Resources

For more helpful information about depression, contact:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org)
  • Mental Health America (http://www.nmha.org/)
  • National Suicide Prevention Hot Line - (800) 273-TALK (8255)
  • Outside the U.S.: The Befrienders Worldwide (http://www.befrienders.org/)

By: Emma Lloyd


Bair MJ, et al. “Depression and Pain Comorbidity: A Literature Review,” Archives of Internal Medicine (Nov. 10, 2003): Vol. 163, No. 20, pp. 2433–45.

Cao Y., Li W., Shen J., Zhang Y. Association between health related quality of life and severity of depression in patients with major depressive disorder. Journal of Central South University. (Feb. 11, 2011): Vol 36, No. 2, pp 143-48.

Trivedi, Madukar. M.D. The link between depression and physical symptoms. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. (June 2006). Volume 6 (Supplement 1) pp 12-16.

Yapko, Michael D. When Living Hurts: Directives for Treating Depression. Routledge. 1994.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 06 Sep 2011

Last Modified: 06 Sep 2011