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Depression Extends Beyond the Mind: Physical Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder

Est. reading time: 5 min.

In honor of World Mental Health Day, we hope to shed light on a less-understood aspect of one of the most diagnosed mental health disorders in the world: depression and its physical symptoms. In the face of an ongoing pandemic that has only exacerbated mental health concerns, plus the toxic effects of negative social media exposure, young people and their loved ones should be aware that depression can show up in unexpected ways.

Clinically Reviewed By:
October 9, 2021
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Major depression in teens is on the rise. According to multiple studies over the past several years, rates of young people who report experiencing depression and/or have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder continue to increase, especially in young girls and LGBTQIA+ youth. And in the face of an ongoing pandemic that has only exacerbated mental health concerns, plus the toxic effects of negative social media exposure, young people and their loved ones should be aware that depression can show up in unexpected ways.

Physical symptoms of depression

Oftentimes, people assume that depression is only characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or a lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy. While those are marked symptoms of depression or a depressive episode, depression can show up in less obvious ways. Beyond the mental and mood-related symptoms of depression, physical side effects are common in those experiencing a major depressive episode or living with chronic depression. There is a direct correlation between the body’s inflammation and immune responses and stress levels, which are often closely tied to depression and other mental health issues. The gut to brain connection is a commonly cited example. Here are some of the other ways depression can show up in the physical body:

  • Fatigue, increased need for sleep or restlessness and insomnia
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Achy muscles
  • Back pain
  • Headaches or migraines (including sensitivity to light)
  • Problems with vision (beyond any diagnosed near or far sightedness)
  • A range of gut issues: general stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, new food sensitivities, heartburn, indigestion, irregular bowel movements

Diagnosing and treating depression

It’s important for patients and their families to be aware of these signs so that they can try to avoid clinical misdiagnoses. Depression––and all mental health disorders––are nuanced, complicated, and often different from person to person. At Charlie Health, we leverage technology to assess where our patients’ and their families’ needs are in order to create the best treatment plan possible for each individual case. We work with a team of clinicians and care providers to tailor each patient’s care plan toward a sustainable recovery from mental health disorders, including major depression. If you or a loved one has experienced any of the above symptoms for a prolonged period of time (usually more than a few months) in addition to changes in mood or energy levels, it may be time to reach out for professional help. The sooner teens receive clinical care for their mental health issues, the better chances they have at improved social lives, healthier family dynamics, better performance in school, and overall reported higher quality of life. Just like there is no one way to tell if you or a loved one has depression, there is no one way to treat or help manage its symptoms. 

Depression support with virtual IOP

At Charlie Health, we’re committed to holistic treatment that includes individual, group, and family therapy into personalized intensive outpatient programs (IOP). We work with primary care providers and psychiatrists to facilitate the care associated with treating other physical symptoms and/or prescribing antidepressants and other mental health-related medications. We also utilize alternative therapies such as art therapy, mindfulness meditation, and music therapy. We are dedicated to creating a safe space to young adults from across the country and from a diverse set of backgrounds, including rural communities, communities of color, and LGBTQIA+ youth. If you think you could benefit from a higher level of care in your journey toward mental health wellness, please contact us

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