Depression and Other Illnesses

Depression often co-exists with other mental or physical illnesses. Substance abuse, anxiety disorders and eating disorders are particularly common conditions that may be worsened by depression.

Research is showing, more and more, that mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder, also called manic depression) and other physical illnesses affect one another. Treating mood disorders can help people manage other illnesses and improve their general health.

Data from a recent DBSA Consensus Conference supported the finding that people with depression have a higher risk of developing heart disease. One reason for this may be that a lack of serotonin in the bloodstream may cause blood platelets to stick together more frequently and cause more blockages in the arteries. Depression is also prevalent among people with HIV who have a two-fold greater risk of developing a mood disorder than the general population. Ten to fifteen percent of people with diabetes experience one or more major depressive episodes and the risk of developing some cancers is 10-25% higher in people with depression than in people without a mood disorder. Depression also substantially increases the risk of developing conditions such as osteoporosis, obesity or chronic pain.

Further Reading

Depression and:

In Time Magazine, Michael D. Lemonick concluded that, "The idea that treating depression might lessen the severity of other diseases… makes basic biochemical sense. Everyday experience makes it clear that brain chemistry governs more than just the emotions."

Depression and bipolar disorder can worsen other illnesses or other illnesses can trigger episodes of mania or depression. Treating both illnesses is important and informing your health care professionals about all your illnesses is equally important.

Talk about your physical health with your psychiatrist or therapist and talk with your primary care doctor about your mental health. When asked how you are doing, let your doctor know the facts beyond "Fine." Discuss the possibility of one illness worsening the other, and ask your doctor what steps you can take to prevent this.

Be sure the medications you are taking do not:

  • Contribute to your mood disorder or make your moods less stable.
  • Have side effects that look like symptoms of mood disorders (confusion, aches, weight or sleep changes).
  • Interact with one another, which can change their effectiveness.
  • Always read the medication interaction information your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

You can find out more about your medication and its interactions online at:

Offer your family doctor, heart specialist or other physician materials about mood disorders from DBSA to help them start discussions with you and other patients. Encourage your doctors to ask all of their patients whether they have symptoms of depression.

It is important to tell your doctor about all of the symptoms you are experiencing and all other illnesses for which you are receiving treatment.

Make a commitment to stick with treatment of both illnesses and find ways to work more healthy activities into your life. Allow yourself time to heal, find support and don't give up hope.