Most of us know about the emotional physical symptoms of depression. But many people with depression live with chronic pain or other physical symptoms. Depression seems to be related to improper functioning of nerve cell networks or pathways that connect the brain areas that process emotional information. Some of these networks also process information for sensing physical pain. So many experts think that depression can make you feel pain differently than other people.
The psychological symptoms of depression include:
continuous low mood or sadness
feeling hopeless and helpless
having low self-esteem
feeling irritable and intolerant of others
having no motivation or interest in things
finding it difficult to make decisions
not getting any enjoyment out of life
feeling anxious or worried
having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
The social symptoms of depression include:
avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
neglecting your hobbies and interests
having difficulties in your home, work or family life
Severities of depression
Depression can often come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. Many people try to cope with their symptoms without realising they’re unwell. It can sometimes take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong.
Doctors describe depression by how serious it is:
mild depression – has some impact on your daily life
moderate depression – has a significant impact on your daily life
severe depression – makes it almost impossible to get through daily life; a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms
Tell your doctor about any physical symptoms: Don’t assume that they’ll go away on their own. Try keeping a symptom diary, which can help you identify patterns.
Sometimes, treating your depression — with therapy, medicine, or both — will clear up your physical symptoms. Medicines for depression “tweak” the chemicals your nerve cell networks use to communicate, making them work more efficiently. Some antidepressants, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor), and older tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil) or desipramine (Norpramin), may help with chronic pain, too.
But you may also need something else. For example, your doctor may suggest an anti-anxiety or sleep aid medicine for insomnia so you can relax and sleep better.
Since pain and depression can sometimes go together, easing your pain may lift your depression, as well. You could try cognitive behavioral therapy. It can teach you ways to deal better with pain.
Other types of depression
There are different types of depression, and some conditions where depression may be one of the symptoms. These include:
postnatal depression – sometimes new mothers, fathers or partners develop depression after they have a baby; this is known as postnatal depression and it’s treated in a similar way to other types of depression, with talking therapies and antidepressant medicines
bipolar disorder – also known as “manic depression”, in bipolar disorder there are spells of both depression and excessively high mood (mania); the depression symptoms are similar to clinical depression, but the bouts of mania can include harmful behaviour, such as gambling, going on spending sprees and having unsafe sex
seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also known as “winter depression”, SAD is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern usually related to winter