Depression can affect your mental health, but it can also impact your physical well-being.

Depression is a chronic mental health condition that can affect many aspects of a person’s life, from their relationships with others to their physical health.

Because depression is a disease that has the potential of being heavily impactful, it can raise the question of whether it can ultimately lead to death.

While you may not die from depression itself, the potential symptoms and coexisting illnesses can lead to worsened overall health and death if not treated adequately.

The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) suggests that depression and depressive symptoms can both lead to other conditions, or be brought on by preexisting conditions.

This could be due to the stress of navigating the condition or because of the physical changes in the brain if you’ve had a previous stroke or are navigating a condition such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Depression is also common for people with chronic, or long-term, conditions such as:

Research from 2004 suggests that the presence of preexisting conditions such as diabetes alongside depression increases the chance of heart conditions, further impacting a person’s health and longevity.

Other health-related areas depression can affect include adequate sleep, diet, and the potential for risky behaviors such as increased substance use.

Impacted sleep cycles

Adequate sleep is crucial for mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleep is also vital for physical health, as poor sleep has been connected to higher rates of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

But people living with depression and other mental health conditions often have complications with their sleep cycles, according to research from 2011.

A 2017 review suggests that insomnia can increase the chance of suicidal ideation. A study from 2021 showed direct links to higher levels of depression and anxiety compared to those without it.

Lack of adequate sleep in early childhood has been associated with borderline personality disorder and psychosis in adolescence, according to a 2020 study.

In extreme cases, severe insomnia may lead to multiple days completely without sleep and temporary psychosis and hallucinations.

A 2009 study suggests that people with depression may have their emotional processing affected during their REM cycle, adding to their symptoms and negatively impacting their sleep.

Dietary changes

Your diet can also be connected to your physical and mental health. A common symptom of depression is altered eating patterns.

Depression can lead to overeating for some but is also known to decrease appetite or lessen a person’s desire to make or eat food.

Depressive symptoms can also lead to making food choices that may not agree with your body, negatively affecting how you’re feeling physically overall.

Because adequate nourishment is vital for bodies and brains to function optimally, this can create a negative cycle. A 2017 review found connections between certain deficiencies leading to depression, such as Vitamin D, folic acid, and Vitamin B-12.

Substance use

According to NIMH, about half of those with substance use disorders have a diagnosed mental health condition.

One in four deaths in the United States is connected to alcohol, tobacco, or illegal substance use. In addition, substance misuse is one of the major contributing factors to suicide.

Substances — including alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal substances — are sometimes used as a coping mechanism for depression or other mental health conditions.

Experts at NIMH suggest that the link between substance use and mental health conditions has the potential to shift their placement in cause and effect because misuse of substances can lead to mental health conditions and mental health conditions can lead to the misuse of substances.

Other reasoning for self-medicating for depression and other mental health issues include the continued stigma surrounding mental health and the lack of access to adequate mental health services.

While there are increased virtual options, not everyone has internet access, health insurance, or can afford treatment.

While depression isn’t something that can be completely eradicated, there are ways we can address the issue both individually and on a larger scale.

By taking steps to address your depressive symptoms, you can reduce the impact stress can have on your body.

Addressing death by depression systemically

  • Better accessibility to mental health services: Increased accessibility to mental health services would serve as a positive shift for people currently navigating depression.
  • Cultural competency: People from marginalized communities may be more likely to seek out mental health support if they feel seen and understood by mental health professionals.

Ways to address depressive symptoms

For those who navigate depression ongoing, it’s no secret that some days are harder than others.

There may be times when it’s a little harder to get out of bed or even communicate to loved ones what would be helpful.

Some suggestions for ways to mitigate your symptoms before they reach a low point include:

Creating a safety plan

Figuring out the steps you should take to keep yourself safe likely isn’t something that can be done in the moment.

When you’re in a clear headspace, try to write down steps of action and make sure to share them with someone you trust, so they can know how to best support you.

Get in the habit of getting enough sleep, eating regularly, and drinking enough water

We all have periods where we aren’t as on top of our schedule as we’d like. But it may be easier to lean into a routine rather than trying to create one when you already aren’t feeling great.

Stay in communication with your loved ones

Daily updates about your mental health aren’t necessary, but let folks know where you’re at. The ones close to you want to support you, but they won’t know when or how you need it if you don’t share.

Make time for yourself

This can include:

There’s no wrong answer, but carving out time to keep yourself centered is vital for your overall health and well-being.

Depression is a serious condition that has the potential to impact your everyday. For some, it can lead to physical health issues or harmful behaviors in an attempt to cope.

While symptoms of depression can affect your physical well-being over time, it’s not an outcome that’s unavoidable.

Knowing how depression affects your body is the first step. Taking actionable steps to manage your symptoms can help reduce the physical effects of depression.

Remember that you’re not alone. You have loved ones that want to support you in addition to support groups and mental health professionals who would love to walk you through ways to cope.