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Finding the Best Depression Treatment

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Dangers of Depression: What to Know About Complications

Medically Reviewed By Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS

As well as mood symptoms, depression can lead to other mental and physical health complications. Some risks of depression include a higher chance of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and substance misuse. While depression is considered a mental health condition, it can affect your physical health too.

One reason for this is behavioral symptoms of depression can sometimes have physical effects. For example, low physical activity levels can affect heart health. Some biological processes, such as inflammation and genetic variations, may also play a role.

Talk with a doctor if you experience other symptoms alongside depression.

Read on to learn more about the complications of depression, treatment, and support.

Difficulty accessing treatment

Two young adults hug as the sun shines on to them.
Maskot/Getty Images

Depression can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • low mood
  • apathy, a feeling of not caring
  • feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or low self-esteem
  • frustration
  • social withdrawal
  • loss of interest in activities
  • fatigue
  • difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions
  • sleep problems
  • cramps or aches and pains
  • headaches

Symptoms often improve Trusted Source Wiley Peer reviewed journal Go to source with a combination of treatment and self-care approaches. It can take time and trial and error to find options that are effective for you.

However, depression symptoms may make it hard to access or keep up with treatment. This can create a vicious cycle, whereby you don’t receive the support you need, so symptoms continue.

For example, fatigue or apathy can make it hard to attend regular therapy appointments or try treatment.

Read more about depression treatment options and how to overcome depression.

Substance misuse

While substance and alcohol misuse can lead to Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source depression, depression can also lead to substance misuse.

Substance misuse may cause or increase the risk of Trusted Source National Institute on Drug Abuse Governmental authority Go to source :

  • worsening depression
  • new or worsening mental health conditions, such as anxiety or schizophrenia
  • addiction
  • cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as stroke
  • cancer
  • infections, such as HIV and hepatitis B or C
  • lung disease

Learn more about treating substance use disorder.


Depression can increase the chance of weight gain and overweight.

A 2023 review of studies Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that people with depression have a higher risk of obesity. This could be because depression may decrease Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source physical activity and increase cravings for high fat and carbohydrate “comfort” foods.

Self-care and medical treatments for depression may help reduce these risks.

Read more about preventing and treating obesity.


A 2023 study suggests depression could act as a possible cause of diabetes.

One partial explanation for this is that depression can increase Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the likelihood of overweight, which sometimes leads to diabetes Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . Researchers also found several genetic variations that link to both depression and insulin production levels.

The following steps may help you improve depression and reduce the risk of diabetes:

  • eating a balanced diet as recommended by a doctor or registered dietitian
  • getting regular physical activity
  • avoiding smoking if you smoke
  • limiting alcohol if you consume it

Learn more about the links between depression and overweight.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)

Research suggests that depression may:

More studies are needed to understand the link between depression and CVD.

Evidence suggests that treating depression can reduce the risk of CVD. For example, a 2023 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of English healthcare records indicated that people whose depression symptoms improved with psychotherapy were 12% less likely to experience a CVD event.

Read more about CVD causes, risk factors, and prevention.

Cognitive impairments

Depression may lead to cognitive impairments — especially in people who experience depression late in life.

Cognitive impairments can vary but generally affect:

  • memory
  • thinking and analysis skills
  • concentration
  • learning
  • decision making

For example, depression may increase the risk of dementia, a cognitive condition that affects these skills.

As with many other complications, your outlook may improve with depression treatment.

For example, the antidepressant vortioxetine (Trintellix) may help improve Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source cognitive function with depression. Psychosocial approaches, such as talk therapy, can also help.

Read more about antidepressants, including safety, effectiveness, and alternative options.


A 2023 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source involving 117,702 people showed that people with depression had a 10–39% higher chance of developing cancer, varying according to the cancer type.

Cancer types that were more likely to appear in people with depression included:

  • breast
  • gastrointestinal
  • urinary
  • lung

More research is needed to understand how depression may raise cancer risks, but it could be due to:

  • depression causing chronic stress responses, increasing inflammation
  • depression leading to risk factors that affect health, such as smoking or high alcohol intake
  • depression symptoms making it hard to keep up with cancer treatment, leading to worse cancer symptoms and decreased survival

Researchers from the study noted that cancer symptoms and outcomes could improve with depression treatment.


Depression can lead to physical symptoms, including Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source pain. This may present as:

  • chronic pain
  • joint pain
  • limb pain
  • back pain
  • gastrointestinal pain

Some people with depression may also experience a lower pain tolerance.

If you can, talk with a doctor about experiencing persistent or frequent pain alongside other depression symptoms. They can identify or rule out other conditions that may be responsible.


Self-harm is when someone deliberately hurts themselves — often as a coping mechanism for depression and other mental health conditions.

The treatment for self-harm typically involves addressing the underlying cause. For depression, this can involve:

  • medication
  • psychotherapy
  • self-care and social support
  • electrostimulation

Learn about how long depression can last and what you can do to improve it.

If someone you know is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, or at risk of suicide, consider the following supportive information. 

  • Even if it’s tough, ask, “Are you considering suicide or self-harm?” 
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number. 
  • Stay with them until emergency services arrive.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful items if safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Call 988 
  • Chat with the lifeline

This service is available 24/7. 

Suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts involve thinking about taking your own life.

Depression and other mental health conditions are some of the primary causes Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of suicide. Other factors that may cause or increase the risk of suicide include:

  • family history of suicide
  • substance misuse
  • drinking alcohol
  • access to firearms
  • having a chronic or serious medical condition
  • having experienced trauma or abuse
  • chronic stress
  • grief or recent loss

You can find support for suicidal thoughts from a doctor or psychotherapist as well as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Support and resources

You can ask a doctor or another healthcare professional for personalized treatment advice. They may also be able to recommend local services, such as free or low cost care and social support groups.

Other supportive resources include:


Depression can lead to many health complications, including obesity, diabetes, cancer, and self-harm.

This may be due to the physical effects of depression on the body, such as inflammation, or behavioral depression symptoms. For example, depression can increase the likelihood of substance misuse, which in turn raises infection or cancer risks.

Talk with a doctor or another healthcare professional if you have any questions about the risks of depression or its treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS
Last Review Date: 2024 Apr 15
View All Finding the Best Depression Treatment Articles
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