Wednesday 9 January 2013

"Depression Hurts"

"Never underestimate the pain of a person. Because in all honesty, everyone hurts. Some people just hide it better than others." ~ unknown

Have you seen that commercial? You know the one. It's filmed all in grey and brown and shows a depressed woman and her little girl, sad 'cause her mom is "sad". It's a commercial for an anti-depressant. Which one, I have no idea. But it's tag line is clear and simple, "Depression hurts." Yes, it does. It hurts in the literal sense.

In my last post I made a reference to the classic misconception that depression is all in your head. I said, yes it is - your brain, actually. I was being a bit glib. The point being that mental illness is a real thing - it's an illness with scientific proof. But a dear friend, who also happens to be a chiropractor and wellness advocate, called me on it, kinda. And I am glad that she did.

Dr. Foster wrote, "Several years ago Candice Pert, PhD found that our 'molecules of emotion' are actually found on a cellular level (not 'just' in our brains). We literally feel joy, anger, sadness at our cellular level. We can have an angry liver, happy toe ... it's that pervasive."

Did I know this? No, definitely not as described by Dr. F. But did I know that mental illness manifests itself physically as well? You bet I did.  So let's talk about that.

One of the first physical symptoms that I experienced years ago when I was first diagnosed was back pain. It was early days when I didn't understand the mental aspect of the illness and making a physical connection was just a huge leap for me. I remember getting ready for work one day and as I lifted my arm to dry my hair, something snapped in my back. And like that, in the blink of an eye, I was pretty much immobile. For a week.

It wasn't until consulting with my doctor that he put the pieces together for me. It was then that I started to understand the connection.

It is very common for depression to first present itself in the form physical symptoms. It's important to understand that along with the usual awesome grab bag full of symptoms (sadness, diminished cognitive abilities, sense of worthlessness/hopelessness, guilt) there is also physical pain.

In an article from Psychology Today author Hara Estroff Maran writes, "Like the emotional symptoms, the painful physical symptoms of depression arise in specific nerve pathways presided over by the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. From their base in the brain stem, such pathways travel up into the highest reaches of the brain, the frontal cortex, where they help regulate thinking and mood. They also travel up to the brain's hypothalamus, where they regulate eating, sleeping, and sex drive. But serotonin and norepinephrine pathways also travel down into the spinal cord serving the rest of the body. And therein lies the problem."

Science-speak, I know. But the point is, depression hurts. So what are these symptoms anyway? Here are some common ones, courtesy of WebMD:

Headaches. These are fairly common in people with depression. If you already had migraine headaches, they may seem worse if you're depressed.
Back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may be worse if you become depressed.
Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse.
Chest pain. Obviously, it's very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away. It can be a sign of serious heart problems. But depression can contribute to the discomfort associated with chest pain.
Digestive problems. You might feel queasy or nauseous. You might have diarrhea or become chronically constipated.
Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out. Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible.
Sleeping problems. Many people with depression can't sleep well anymore. They wake up too early or can't fall asleep when they go to bed. Others sleep much more than normal.
Change in appetite or weight. Some people with depression lose their appetite and lose weight. Others find they crave certain foods (like carbohydrates) and weigh more.
Dizziness or lightheadedness.

Now, I hate to brag but I have experienced 'em all. Yes, at various times and to varying degrees I have enjoyed each of these physical manifestations of mental illness. The physical pain that accompanies depression makes it even harder to battle your way out of the illness. It's so hard to feel better mentally when you feel poorly physically.

So does any of this sound like you? If it does, please take my advice and speak with your doctor. I am in no way, shape, or form an expert on mental illness. I can only share my story and what I have learnt along my own journey. And, I can hope to lessen someone else's pain.

KB xo

P.S. Here is the complete article from Psychology Today:

P.P.S. Check out the blog of one of my inspirations (and dear friend!) Dr. Laura Foster:


  1. Very interesting information! Perfect just what I was looking for! Thanks for sharing this blog..
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  2. Thanks for your comments, Tahsin - I am glad that you liked it!

    1. Kristin,
      I'm a journalist working on an article about the link between depression and pain. I'd love to interview you about your experience. If you're interested in sharing your story, please get in touch and I'll share additional details.

    2. Hi Jodi! Here's my email:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks for the post. God bless.

  5. I have had depression for over 17 yrs and I suffer from the physical pain mostly abdominal and joint and back pain. The pain in my neck and shoulders is there continually.I have a a hipnotic CD that gets me so relaxed the pain actually goes away for a while and it feels great.

  6. Depression is a bad disease in a perfectly good body. It can be beat just haven't figured out how to defeat it totally.

  7. Hi Mel. Thank you so much for reading the blog and for taking the time to share something of your story. The more we share the more we reduce stigma. KB


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