Understanding the Effects of Depression on Your Mind and Body

The negative effects of depression can severely impact your health. Read on to know more about the effects, risk factors, and how to treat them.

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The negative effects of depression should not be taken for granted, as they can severely affect a person’s physical and mental well-being. “Most depression sufferers have long-term life and work pressure or experience negative life events and emotions. These cause body system and organ dysfunctions, resulting in imbalances in qi, yin and yang, and blood over time,” says Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Sam Ng.

“Depression affects the liver, heart and spleen. Liver dysfunction can affect heart functions, and patients will experience insomnia, dreaminess, forgetfulness, and heart palpitations. The liver also affects the spleen and stomach function, causing loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal distension and diarrhoea,” he explains. 

“Women are more likely to get depression than men because women have menstruation every month, which can cause liver blood deficiency in the long term,” he continues. “If the liver is not well nourished by blood, its function may be impaired easily due to environmental pressures, causing liver qi stagnation, leading to depression. Therefore, TCM treatment is mainly to soothe emotions and to adjust the functions of the viscera.” 

Here are the risk factors of depression, its physical and mental effects, and diverse ways to overcome this chronic disorder.

An Asian woman in sports attire does bodyweight lunges on a grey yoga mat in her living room
Low-intensity aerobic workouts are effective at preventing excessive weight gain due to depression.

Primary Risk Factors of Depression  

Depression can develop because of biological, environmental, genetic, and psychological factors. It is worth noting that adults have a higher risk of developing depression than teenagers and young children. 

Family history  

Several studies have found that people who had a family history of depression were predisposed to the disorder. This risk attributes to the presence of short alleles — a type of gene abnormality — in people who have encountered major life stressors or childhood trauma. 

Major life changes or trauma 

Life changes that cause chronic stress can also make a person vulnerable to depression. These include a vehicular accident, domestic violence, harassment, physical and mental abuse, or leaving home for work or military combat. 

Physical illnesses and medications 

People diagnosed with other chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease can increase their risk of developing depression. Similarly, medications such as corticosteroids, beta-blockers, interferons, or recreational drugs to treat these illnesses can also contribute to an increased risk of depression. 

A woman lies down on a couch and holds a cup while a psychiatrist writes down information on a notepad
Psychotherapy can help to boost your self-esteem and, in the process, alleviate depression symptoms like sexual dysfunction.

5 Ways Depression Can Affect Your Physical and Mental Health  

The symptoms of depression may vary for different people. It is also important to note that some people may present with only one or two symptoms, while others may present with multiple symptoms at once.

1. Loss of interest in life, feelings of guilt or hopelessness 

Patients with depression often complain of feeling fatigued, having no interest in activities that previously interested them, and feeling worthless and pessimistic. They may suffer from lack of sleep, or at times sleep for hours on end. Many also report having a lack of feelings and suicidal thoughts.  

2. It can impair concentration, memory, and the ability to make decisions 

Depression can affect working memory negatively and cause you to struggle with learning new information or recalling previously learnt knowledge. It can also interfere with your ability to focus on tasks and to make decisions rationally. 

For this reason, you should decide with your doctor on the use of antidepressants. Antidepressants help to improve how your brain uses certain chemicals to manage mood or stress. 

In addition, consistent use of antidepressants can also improve your appetite, concentration, mood and sleep quality. However, you should take them strictly under the supervision of your doctor as they can be habit-forming. You can also consume a herbal beverages like rooibos tea to alleviate similar symptoms of depression. 

3. It can influence weight changes 

Depression is typically characterised by a loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss but has also been associated with the onset of obesity, particularly an increase in abdominal fat. Specifically, a lack of sleep and emotional eating due to depression can put you at risk of weight gain. 

An effective way of relieving depression and preventing excessive weight gain is to exercise regularly. Consistent, low-intensity workouts may promote the release of neurotrophins — a class of proteins that can influence the growth of nerve cells — in the brain’s hippocampus region, thus helping to improve your mood. Exercise also releases endorphins– aka “Happy Hormones” in the body, which makes you happy and has a positive body image. 

Physician Ng recommends a daily workout of around 30 minutes. “Running, swimming, walking, Tai Chi, and others can help restore the balance of Qi and blood,” he says. “Taking more deep breaths can also help people with depression to improve their mood.” 

4. It can cause sexual dysfunction 

Sexual dysfunction is another symptom of depression and affects both men and women alike. Vice versa, sexual disorders can also cause depression due to stress and anxiety. 

Reduced libido is the most common sexual problem faced by people who suffer from depression. Depression is also associated with arousal disorders like erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women.  

It is a given that sexual dysfunction can cause strain in a relationship. Psychotherapy helps in relieving depression by helping you to understand others and be understood. It also identifies strategies that can help boost your self-esteem, which contributes to better sexual function. 

You may also complement your diet with an intake of omega-3 fish oil supplements containing long-chain fatty acids — DHA and EPA — that improve brain function and suppress inflammatory responses in the body. 

5. It can worsen pain in the muscles and joints 

Depression can cause pain or vice versa. Sometimes symptoms of pain, including chronic joint, limb, and back pain, can lead to depression.

Massage therapy, also known as tuina, has a therapeutic effect on the symptoms of depression. Physician Ng recommends undergoing acupuncture or acupoint massage and cupping treatment. Alternatively, you can also complement massage therapy with herbal remedies to yield an enhanced antidepressant effect. Herbal remedies include a nourishing beverage containing goji berries, longan and red dates, which have a calming effect on the mind.  

“Combining TCM treatment with acupuncture can improve the therapeutic effect,” physician Ng says. “For example, Chinese medicine regulates the physique and balances qi and blood. Meanwhile, acupuncture, cupping, and tuina can help relax the body and dredge the meridians. It has a great therapeutic effect on the mood, sleep and physical symptoms of patients with depression.” 

Finding treatment options that work for you can significantly reduce the symptoms and duration of depression. Often, these will include a combination of medications and alternative therapies. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in knowing that depression is curable and consistent adherence to treatment will help you manage symptoms effectively. 

References

  1. Elsevier. 2008. Risk Factors in Depression. [Accessed 1 September 2021] 
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Depression. [Accessed 1 September 2021] 
  3. MERCK MANUAL Professional Version. 2020. Depressive Disorders. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
  4. Dual Diagnosis.org. 2021. The Effects of Depression on Learning. [Accessed 1 September 2021] 
  5. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2019. Depression, emotional eating and long-term weight changes: a population-based prospective study. [Accessed 1 September 2021]
  6. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression. [Accessed 1 September 2021] 
  7. National Library of Medicine. 2009. Sexual dysfunction, depression, and the impact of antidepressants. [Accessed 1 September 2021]  
  8. US National Library of Medicine. 2004. Interpersonal psychotherapy: principles and applications. [Accessed 1 September 2021] 
  9. Korean Journal Publishing Service. 2015. Trends of Tuina Therapy on Depression and Its Efficacy -based on CNKI-. [Accessed 1 September 2021] 

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