Can Depression Kill You?
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Untreated depression can lead to serious health consequences, including death. Still, there’s good news. Effective treatment is available and can help you manage symptoms and reduce the risk of premature death. Understanding depression helps individuals recognize symptoms, know when to seek treatment and learn how to cope.
The Effects of Depression
Symptoms of depression include:
- Frequent and persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness or numbness
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Irritability or agitation
- Trouble focusing
- Sleep problems (insomnia or oversleeping)
- Decreased energy or feeling sluggish
- Appetite changes
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Thoughts of self-harm or carrying out self-harming behaviors
- Issues with decision-making and thinking
- Unexplained aches or pains
- Hallucinations or delusions
Each case of depression will present with a cluster of symptoms unique to the individual. The specific depression type will also impact how symptoms present. Types of depression include:
- Major depressive disorder: Symptoms last at least two weeks and negatively impact daily life.
- Persistent depressive disorder: In this case, symptoms last two or more years but are less severe than major depressive disorder.
- Perinatal and postpartum depression: Symptoms begin for the mother during pregnancy or up to a year after birth.
- Bipolar depression: Individuals with bipolar I disorder have depressive episodes that alternate with manic (extreme highs) episodes. Those with bipolar II disorder may have depressive symptoms longer than people with bipolar I disorder.
- Seasonal affective disorder: Symptoms present during specific seasons, most commonly during the fall and winter months. They typically go away when the season ends and return with it the following year.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: A severe form of premenstrual disorder (PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder can affect women in the days or weeks before their period.
- Psychotic depression: This involves severe depression resulting in the person experiencing delusions and/or hallucinations.
Can You Die From Depression?
Symptoms can become chronic and increase in severity when untreated. This negatively impacts an individual’s overall health and increases their risk of premature death. Early mortality may result from suicide, diseases or infections that individuals with depression are at a higher risk for.
Various research studies in recent years found:
- Depression increases the risk of death.
- Individuals with depression and anxiety died an average of 7.9 years earlier than their counterparts.
- Depression increases women’s risk of obesity, alcohol misuse, sleep disorders, heart failure and heart disease.
- Men with depression were at a higher risk for sepsis, anxiety, malnutrition, hypothyroidism, osteoporosis and falls.
Suicide and depression are commonly associated. Globally, depression is the leading cause of death by suicide, and half of all completed suicides are connected to depression and other mood disorders.
If you or a loved one are dealing with suicidal thoughts, help is available. These resources are free and can be accessed 24/7.
- Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988.
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741-741.
- TrevorLifeline: Text START to 678-678 or call 866-488-7386. This lifeline is dedicated to helping LGBTQ teens and young adults.
People look for ways to cope when daily life feels empty or hopeless. Individuals may seek relief by using substances, but it typically worsens symptoms.
Depression and other mood disorders are the most common comorbid conditions in those with substance use disorders. Research has found that about 1/3 of people with major depressive disorder also have substance use disorders. The presence of both conditions also increases the individual’s risk of suicide.
Physical Complications & Illness
Individuals experiencing depression are at a higher risk for physical illnesses and conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic pain
While there isn’t one specific cause of the increased risk of disease and illness, several factors are believed to contribute. Individuals with depression have been found to have less access to medical care. Symptoms also make it more difficult for individuals to care for themselves by seeking care, nutrition, exercise and consistently taking medications. Recent studies have also shown that individuals with depression have higher rates of inflammation and changes in metabolism, heart rate, blood circulation and stress hormones — all of these increase a person’s risk of different diseases.
Treatment Options for Depression
Multiple treatment options for depression are available. Your healthcare provider may recommend a combination of treatment approaches to effectively reduce or manage depressive symptoms.
Talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are often used to treat depression. These are also evidence-based approaches, meaning they have been rigorously tested through research studies and proven effective.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe antidepressant medications as part of your treatment if talk therapy has been ineffective or you’re experiencing moderate to severe depression. There are different types of these medications. The most commonly prescribed types include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Antidepressants take several weeks to take full effect. It’s important to monitor your symptoms and discuss them with your provider. Do not stop your medication without consulting your provider. Abruptly stopping antidepressants can have severe negative impacts on your mental and physical health. If you need to stop a medication, your doctor will instruct you on how to taper off it safely.
Brain Stimulation Therapies
For individuals with treatment-resistant depression, their healthcare provider may recommend brain stimulation therapy. This includes transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). This noninvasive approach involves using a magnetic field to stimulate targeted brain areas.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another form of brain stimulation therapy during which an individual receives electrical impulses to their brain while under brief anesthesia. This approach has significantly changed from previous harmful forms of therapy. Now it is much more controlled with reduced risks.
When To Seek Help
If depression is impacting your daily life, making it hard to function or you’re having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please reach out for help. In addition to the resources listed above, reaching out to your healthcare provider is another place to start. They can identify or rule out any physical conditions or illnesses that may be causing or exacerbating depressive symptoms.
Strategies To Cope With Depression
Many coping strategies can help you manage depressive symptoms and provide relief in conjunction with treatment. Each individual is unique regarding which techniques work for them, so you may try multiple strategies before finding which ones work best for you.
- Spend time with friends and loved ones who build you up.
- Prioritize your sleep.
- Practice deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.
- Write in a journal.
- Spend time with animals. They can be your’s or a loved one’s pet. You could also volunteer at an animal shelter.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet.
- Receive acupuncture.
- Exercise each day. While this can look like going to the gym or running, it doesn’t have to. The key is intentionally moving your body in some way throughout the day (walking, dancing, stretching, yoga, etc.).
- Keep up with your daily medications and vitamins. Set alarms on your phone or write notes to remind yourself.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Stick to a routine that makes you feel good. This can be as simple as ensuring you have time to sit and eat breakfast in the morning, following your skincare routine or going to bed on time.
- Spend time in nature. Go for a walk, have lunch outside with a friend or read a book in the park.
If you or a loved one are searching for support, there’s help available. Try the Nobu app. You’ll discover free stress management tools, guided video lessons, mindfulness exercises and more. You can also connect virtually with a licensed therapist for an additional fee. Download it today in the Google Play store or Apple Store.
Take Control Of Your Mental Health
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- Bica, T., et al., “Depression as a Risk Factor of Organic Diseases: An International Integrative Review.” Journal of Nursing Scholarship, July 2017. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Cleveland Clinic. “Depression Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment.” 2017. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Davis, L., et al. “Major depression and comorbid substance use disorders.” Curr Opin Psychiatry, January 2008. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Gilman, S.E., et al. “Depression and mortality in a longitudinal study: 1952–2011.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2017. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Han, X., et al. “Disease trajectories and mortality among individuals diagnosed with depression: a community-based cohort study in UK Biobank.” Molecular Psychiatry, May 25, 2021. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- National Institute of Mental Health. “Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Recognizing and Treating Depression” 2021. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Ng, C.W., How, C.H., Ng, Y.P. “Depression in primary care: assessing suicide risk.” Singapore Medical Journal, 2017. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Pratt, L.A., et al. Excess Mortality Due to Depression and Anxiety in the United States: Results From a Nationally Representative Survey. General Hospital Psychiatry, 2016. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Quello, S.B., et al. “Mood Disorders and Substance Use Disorder: A Complex Comorbidity.” Science & Practice Perspectives, 2005. Accessed October 31, 2022.