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What are the physical signs of depression?

Depression is something that can impact both the body and mind. While many people understand and recognise the emotional symptoms, many misinterpret the physical signs of depression and believe that they stem from illnesses related to the body rather than the mind. This misinterpretation can result in people with depression remaining undiagnosed and not getting the treatment that they need in order to feel better.

If you are worried about someone, or think that you may be experiencing depression, this blog focuses on the physical signs of depression. We have outlined the different signs and symptoms as well as the treatment for depression that is available at Priory Group.

Understanding the physical signs of depression

Unexplained aches and pains

This can include joint and muscle pain, headaches and back pain, and can range from mild aches to extreme and debilitating pain. These aches and pains can leave you feeling distracted and irritable, stopping you from being able to enjoy activities, sports and hobbies you once took part in.

As depression and pain share the same nerve pathways and brain chemicals, it is thought that this connection is one of the reasons why people experience pain when dealing with depression.

Tiredness and fatigue

Depression can leave you feeling exhausted, regardless of how long you have slept for. This can happen for a number of reasons, including:

  • The psychological burden of depression
  • Varying levels of dopamine and serotonin impacting your energy levels
  • Sleep problems, which cause you to feel drained during the day
  • Using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to manage depression symptoms

If you are using drugs or alcohol to dull or put a stop to some of your symptoms, it is so important for you to speak to a healthcare professional to seek a healthier way of managing your depression. Using drugs and alcohol is a risky and dangerous coping mechanism, which can impact your health and lead to long term addiction issues.

Changes to your psychomotor activity

One of the physical signs of depression is the slowing of your psychomotor activity - the tasks that your body and brain work together to complete. This can cause you to speak, think and move a little slower than usual. This can be seen in the following ways:

  • Speech – greater pauses in speech, quieter in volume, less articulation, more monotonous and delayed responses in conversations
  • Eye movement – a fixed stare and reduced eye contact
  • Facial movement – a flat expression, seeming not to react to emotions
  • Bodily movement – slower movement of your body, where you struggle with fine motor tasks such as writing, doing up buttons, zips or shoelaces and handling money. You may also feel weighed down when walking or changing positions during the day, and have a slow reaction time

Reduced sex drive

While it is normal for people to experience fluctuations in their sex drive, the complete loss of it can be one of the physical signs of depression. It can often be a symptom that people don’t want to talk about or attempt to address, due to feeling embarrassed about the private matter. But if it is something that you are experiencing, it is important to discuss it as it is a physical sign of depression that can severely impact your self-confidence and lead to issues within your relationship.

Appetite changes

Depression may see a person gain or lose weight, and there are a number of reasons why this can happen:

  • The sheer exhaustion you feel can reduce your motivation to cook. This in turn can impact on the amount and types of food you eat
  • As depression is associated with changes in hormones such as cortisol and serotonin, these can lead to experiences of stress. This may then cause you to overeat or under-eat in an attempt to manage the difficult emotions

The changes in appearance caused by over or under-eating may then cause you to feel less self-confident and worsen your symptoms of depression, often due to the societal pressure around how we look and what we eat.

Digestion issues

Another physical sign of depression is gastrointestinal or digestion issues, where you feel nauseous all the time, or experience constipation or diarrhoea.

This symptom if often caused by depression changing your response to stress, as mentioned above, which in turn changes how the body processes food. Also, changes in appetite can lead to experiences of nausea, constipation and diarrhoea.

Treatment for depression

If you are experiencing physical signs of depression, it is recommended that you speak to a healthcare professional so that you can start to take the right steps towards feeling better.

You may feel comfortable starting your journey by talking to your GP. Alternatively, you can come to a Priory Group Hospital or Wellbeing Centre for an assessment, diagnosis and for treatment.

Your initial appointment or appointments will be carried out by one of our consultant psychiatrists, all of whom are highly experienced in assessing depression symptoms and providing correct diagnoses. The doctor will then work with you to determine the best course of action, which may include a combination of medication and therapy to deal with both the emotional and physical signs of depression, and help you to enjoy a better quality of life going forward.

Blog reviewed by Dr Mila Senem Leveson (MB BChir, MRC, MRCPsych, PGCert in Medical and Biomedical Education), Consultant General Adult and Rehabilitation Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London

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