October 6, 2023
Before getting to know about how depression would impact on our physical health it is better we understand the concept of ‘Mind and Body connection’. Initially, approximately 300 yrs. ago ‘Mind and Body’ was treated as a whole. Later in the 17th century, these two entities were dichotomised and were viewed and treated as separate. However, in the 20th century the Mind and Body connections were greatly explored. The link between the thoughts, emotions and behaviour impacting physical health has become an important component of holistic medicine.
Whenever we are stressed either because of external stressors like interpersonal problems, work related issues, academic tensions, financial problems, sudden loss or because of internal stressors like hormonal issues, illnesses, immunological disturbances, usage of drugs our body is said to be in stress. In response to stress, our body releases two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones are known to give us a short term kick known as ‘adrenaline rush’ to tide over the stressful situation. However, when the stress gets into a chronic mode it may result in the release of these hormones consistently over a long time. This would negatively impact physical health like weakening the immune system, gastro intestinal issues, sleep disturbances and various somatic complaints.
Depression is a common and serious mental health issue which negatively impacts a person with a feeling of low mood. Depression is not just a brain disorder affecting only the emotional unit but it’s a complex health issue with other associated physical problems like easy fatigability, restlessness, insomnia, reduced sexual drive, disturbed appetite, changes in weight and various somatic complaints like aches and pains, tension headache and gastrointestinal complaints.
Depression and physical illnesses: it's a vicious cycle. Physical issues of Depression are known to weaken the immune system and hence worsening of physical health. In turn, the physical changes of the chronic physical illnesses are known to worsen the Depressive symptoms.
Some of the physical issues in relation to Depression are:
1. Reduced immunity: Depression is known to reduce the immunity and leave the individual vulnerable for infections or delayed recovery from the underlying illnesses. Researchers have found a link between depression and inflammation which would help us in the better understanding of the link of issues like Irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis or fibromyalgia like conditions with Depression.
2. Impact on cardiovascular system: In Depression, as a result of increased stress hormones, there is a frequent rise in heart rate and blood pressure. This may lead to tightening of the blood vessels and reduced blood flow to the heart muscles and the periphery. Over time, these may lead to heart diseases, hypertension and cardiac events like heart attacks and stroke. The risk may be further higher if there is a coexisting smoking, physical inactivity and overeating secondary to Depression.
3. Impact on Central nervous system: Individuals with Depression are known to have higher risk to Alzheimer’s dementia, Epilepsy and Multiple Sclerosis. The memory problems may be secondary to prolonged disturbance in focusing, sleep disturbances and tension headaches. And the neurological issues may be also due to the excessive stress hormones.
4. On Gastrointestinal system: Depression is associated with disturbed appetite, nausea, vomiting and weight loss or stress eating and weight gain.
5. Metabolic changes: Being Depressed with low energy, motivation and poor diet may increase the risk of various metabolic disturbances like obesity, type2 Diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disorders.
Influence of Depression in the course of chronic illnesses
Depression may magnify the health problems by delaying tissue repair due to increased stress hormone. In the background of Depression, it may be difficult to stay on complaint medications or to follow the treatment instructions. The pain threshold may be low in individuals with Depression.
Treatment of Depression to achieve Holistic health
The mind and body connection is intertwined and it is pertinent to discuss both the physical health and mental health issues with your treating doctor. Let the doctor decide if the Depression is causing the physical problems, or the vice versa or both. Also let the doctor know about all the medications used for other health conditions as some of the medications are known to cause Depression. Management of depressive symptoms has shown better glycaemic control among the Diabetics, also improved quality of life in patients with cancer. In case of Depressive symptoms of any minor degree, make sure to involve the mental health professional in the treatment process along with your healthcare provider.