In this guide, we will discuss ‘Can depression kill you?’, the association between depression and self-medication, complications of related illnesses, what can someone with depression do, how to identify some of the signs, symptoms, risk factors, suicidal thoughts and understanding how depression is not just in the brain as it is usually believed.
Can depression kill you?
The short answer to ‘Can depression kill you?’ is: Yes, it can. However, depression is not exactly like cancer or HIV. They are considered medical conditions which can be manifested through several physical symptoms but depression is a mental illness whose symptoms are not easy to identify. Many people who suffer from depression are able to conceal it, meaning, their relatives and friends never really know they are depressed.
Consequently, depression can’t directly kill you as many diseases will but it certainly increases the risk of death, becoming a life-threatening condition. The negative symptoms of depression may influence someone’s decision to take their own life. As indicated by Nancy Schimelpfening, “Depression can make people feel helpless and without hope, causing them to reach the unfortunate conclusion that suicide is the only way to end their misery.”
Untreated depression can increase the risk of having suicidal thoughts or attempts, making it a life-threatening condition. You may have seen on the news or heard about someone close to you who committed suicide and no one seemed to notice they were depressed for weeks or even years. They never said anything to anyone and they got very good at concealing their depression, however, on occasion you or someone else may have noticed something was not ‘right’ but didn’t pay much attention to it since you considered how ‘it is normal to be sad from time to time’.
In this order of ideas, suicide can be a fatal result of living with depression and we can see how statistics reflect it is on the rise. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or you have been diagnosed with depression, talk to a mental health professional about the recommended treatment options for you (i.e. antidepressant medication or psychotherapy), in an attempt to relieve the symptoms and make you feel better.
Depression and self-medication
Depression has led many people to turn to several substances and alcohol to self-medicate their emotional problems. This tends to be more frequent when people are unable to deal or cope with their feelings of sadness, isolation, frustration, anger, hopelessness and stress.
The real problem here with self-medication is developing an unhealthy dependency to certain substances and even abusing them. Moreover, there could be a dual diagnosis when there is an issue with depression and simultaneously an issue with substance use. Someone with a dual diagnosis can have more complications when treating depression since there are two conditions to treat but need to be dealt with as separate even if they are interconnected.
Moreover, substance misuse is considered one of the biggest risk factors for suicide. What can you do if this is the case? It is imperative to talk to your doctor or someone you trust about your feelings and thoughts to get help. Early diagnosis can help ensure you get the treatment you need to address each condition and reduce the risk of suicide.
Complications of related illnesses
Chronic illnesses have been associated with the risk of depression. As indicated by Nancy Schumelpfening, “In some cases, this may be because the stress of coping with illness makes it more likely that a person will experience symptoms of depression. Some health conditions, such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, can also cause changes in the brain that contribute to depression.”
The National Institute of Mental Health has indicated that people suffering from the following illnesses, have a higher risk of depression:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Heart disease
However, more research is needed in this area to determine the connection between depression and other medical conditions but some researchers have suggested that it may be difficult for people with depression to take care of their health and following their treatment.
What can I do?
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression due to a chronic medical condition, talk to your doctor. There are collaborative treatment options that can help address the symptoms of depression and medical conditions which can be effective at managing co-existing depression and chronic illnesses.
Some of the treatment options include psychotherapy, antidepressant medication or combining both. Some studies have even shown the effectiveness of combining psychotherapy and medication when treating symptoms of depression in individuals suffering from chronic illnesses.
Untreated depression and effects on your health
When someone is depressed they tend to make poor life choices, leading to issues that can potentially affect your health including:
- Sleeping problems (i.e. insomnia, sleeping too much, disturbed sleep)
- Feeling fatigued or lacking energy.
- Changes in your eating habits such as decreased appetite leading to weight loss or increased appetite leading to an increase in cravings for certain foods especially ‘comfort foods’. This will cause you to overeat, leading to weight gain.
- Unexplained physical illnesses or symptoms such as headaches, pain, muscle tension, loss of sexual drive, colds, upset stomach, digestive problems, among others.
Untreated clinical depression can become a serious problem since it increases the chance of risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse. Moreover, it can put some strain on interpersonal relationships causing problems at home or work, making it more difficult to overcome the illness.
As indicated by WebMD, “Clinical depression, also known as major depression, is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. Clinical depression affects the way you eat and sleep. It affects the way you feel about yourself and those around you. It even affects your thoughts.”
Moreover, it is important to understand how depression is not going to go away on its own or simply by ignoring it. Proper diagnosis and treatment are key to help deal with the symptoms of depression and improve quality of life.
Depression is not just in the brain
As Dr. Charles Nemeroff, Director of the University of Miami Center on Aging and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at University of Miami indicated, “…one of the really important facts to know is that depression is a systemic illness. It affects the whole body. Part of having depression is being very vulnerable for other medical disorders, including diabetes, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, stroke.
Therefore, he explains how, “Depression is a killing disease. Not only does it kill you by suicide, it kills you because your life expectancy is shorter because of the biology of the illness. What I mean by that is the biology of depression is not just in the brain. It’s in the whole body.”
Subsequently, expecting to ‘snap out of it’ or telling someone ‘it is all in your head’ is not accurate at all and can do more harm than good. People with depression often fear to be judged and discriminated against, two of the reasons why they don’t seek help or when they have tried, they have been receiving discouraging comments that only makes them feel more alone and misunderstood.
Symptoms of severe depression
Many people are not aware of the symptoms of depression, and even more so when they are dealing with severe depression. Moreover, some don’t even go to see a mental health professional or seek help due to the stigma associated with mental illness.
However, here are some of the symptoms of severe depression you could identify yourself or in others. According to WebMD they include:
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
- Persistent thoughts of something bad happening
- Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
- In very severe cases, psychotic symptoms (such as hallucinations or delusions)
- Inability to take care of oneself, such as eating, bathing, or fulfilling family or work responsibilities
Risk factors for suicide
Certain risk factors increase the chances of committing suicide or having at least one suicide attempt. However, not all people with risk factors become suicidal. Some of the risk factors include:
- Current or past history of substance abuse
- Past history of suicide attempt
- Family history of suicide
- Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
- Firearms in the home
- Feelings of hopelessness
When someone is severely depressed, suicidal thoughts become a real threat. Each year, millions of people in the world decide to take their own lives. Just as we have seen some of the symptoms related to their behavior, there are also other warning signs that may go undetected indicated by WebMD, such as:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill yourself
- Looking for a way to kill yourself, such as searching online for methods or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
Why is this blog about Can depression kill you important?
The answer to ‘Can depression kill you?’ in short is Yes. However, consider how this is not an illness such as diabetes or cancer, it is a condition that will put you at risk of having suicidal thoughts and eventually commiting suicide. This is the worst case scenario and doesn’t mean that everyone living with depression will commit suicide but the best thing to do to avoid this situation is suicide prevention and treatment.
Moreover, knowing the symptoms, the signs and potentially how serious it can be if depression is left untreated, will help identify it and will allow you to get appropriate help on time either for you or someone you love.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Schimelpfening, N. (2020, Mar.) “Can Depression Be Life-Threatening?” Retrieved from Verywellmind.com.
WebMD: “Warning Signs of Severe Depression”
WebMD: “Untreated Depression”
Cirino, E. (2018, May.) “Can Depression Kill You?” Retrieved from Healthline.com.
Carreon, D. & Gold, J.A. (2018, Apr.) Depression: A Killing Disease. Retrieved from psychiatrictimes.com.