Women in pain holding a pillow over her stomach

Physical symptoms you didn’t realise depression could cause

November 2, 2017

Most people will agree that depression can cause emotional symptoms – feeling sad, low, down, numb… But what many don’t realise is that depression can have a very real effect on your body as a whole.

We are taking a look at seven common physical symptoms of depression, some of which you might find surprising.

Symptom #1. Chest pain

Firstly, if you’re experiencing chest pain of any kind, it is extremely important that you get it checked immediately to rule out heart attacks and other serious conditions. After all, these can be potentially fatal.

But, chest pain can actually be linked to depression. Seems strange, but there is a good reason: depression often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety and panic attacks, which are typically felt in the chest. In fact studies have shown that depression is one of the more common explanations of chest pain, making this a helpful indicator for diagnosis.

Symptom #2. Aches and pains

Pain and depression often go hand in hand. Depression can cause pain — and pain can cause depression. This means that for people with an existing condition such as arthritis or an injury, they may see their pain get worse.

People who have depression can also often feel unexplained aches and pains, whether it’s in the abdomen, joints, neck or back – or all over.

Many professionals even believe that depression causes people to process and feel pain differently than those in perfect health, as it affects a person’s sensitivity to pain stimuli and reduces their coping skills.

Symptom #3. Funny tummy

Ever totally lost your appetite, felt queasy, or had a churning stomach when you felt anxious or were going through a tough time? Well, you weren’t being dramatic – the fact is, a person’s digestive system is incredibly sensitive to emotions, and it can be one of the first things to be affected.

For those with depression, stomach and digestive issues are often an ongoing concern, especially in kids and teenagers. Nausea, diarrhoea and constipation can all be symptoms – and studies have shown up to 60% of people with irritable bowel syndrome have a mental illness such as depression or anxiety.

Symptom #4. Headaches

Headaches are another symptom closely linked to depression – with people often complaining of a dull headache which is at its worse in the morning and at night.

These are likely to be tension headaches that happen when the muscles in your neck and scalp are strained. Why does this occur? People with depression often subconsciously tense up this muscle group and without even realising, give themselves a headache.

Symptom #5. Exhaustion & trouble sleeping

Because depression and fatigue are so intertwined, it can be really hard to separate them or determine which came first.

Having no energy is a common complaint from people with depression. But there’s a lot more to this than not feeling motivated. Experts say depression causes a complete lack of energy termed ‘anergia’. This can be so severe that moving around becomes excruciating, with some people saying that even getting out of bed is a daunting task.

This isn’t ‘tiredness’ that can be cured with sleep. This is fatigue which is a very different beast – with people feeling exhausted from the moment they wake up.

Another physical sign of depression is sleepless nights, with up to 80% of people with experiencing insomnia. This could mean having trouble drifting off or waking up throughout the night. But on the flip side, for others, depression can actually cause them to sleep excessively.

Symptom #6. You’re never in ‘the mood’

For many people, depression has a marked impact on sexual libido – whether it’s due to emotional reasons (like lack of confidence) or physical reasons (exhaustion or taking longer to climax). Even anti-depressants can affect people’s sex drive.

Whatever the case, it’s worth talking to your doctor about a change in sex drive, to pinpoint the cause and find a solution – sometimes a simple change in medication or treatment can help. It might feel awkward, but remember, doctors are professionals and it’s their job to help.

Symptom #7. Irregular weight

Given the impact depression has on appetite and motivation, it’s no surprise that the condition can lead to weight loss or even weigh gain.

Losing weight is quite common, as people simply lose interest in food. But for some people, they experience weight gain which is thought to be because they may not be as active, or they use food as a response to the emotional stress and sadness.

Where can I find support?

If you (or someone you know) are concerned about any symptoms of depression or mental illness, talk to a GP or medical professional.

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, or for advice and support contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.