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January 26, 2016
Identifying Depression and its link to Pain

As cold weather sets in for New England, the number of people with depression has great potential to increase.

The most widely known clinical diagnosis of depression at this time of year is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects 4-6% of the population1. While SAD may cause individuals to be more sluggish or tired, there are some widely supported treatment options including medication, behavior therapy, or—the most common—light therapy.

Depression doesn’t have to correlate to a seasonal change, though. While SAD and other forms of depression may cause a person to mentally feel sad, it can also cause physical side effects.

Many times, the physical pain associated with depression is overlooked. An article in The Journal of Clinical Psychology confirmed that physical issues are not only common in depression, they are often a presenting symptom2.

Physical complaints often associated with depression include aches and pains, back pain, stomach pain, chronic fatigue, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, a decrease in appetite or a decreased interest in sex.

One of the most common physical complaints from patients with depression is headaches. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, daily headaches and migraines are common in people who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders.

Research has related the onset of physical pain to the neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain functioning in an abnormal way. Depression can also lower your immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infection.

The most important thing you can do to prevent the cycle of physical pain and depression is to have an open dialog with your doctor about changes in your sleep pattern and appetite. Also, report feelings of anxiety and if you are feeling an unusual amount of stress. Communicating when changes occur will allow this all-too-common cycle to be identified sooner. Your doctor can offer a treatment plan to help you continue working or to perform daily activities you enjoy.