4 Reasons Physical Illness Leads to Depression

Updated on March 27, 2018
denise.w.anderson profile image

Denise speaks from her own experience. She has had many trials and difficulties in her own life and seeks to help others through theirs.

Illness and depression go hand in hand unless we do something to prevent it.
Illness and depression go hand in hand unless we do something to prevent it.

Illness and Depression Go Hand in Hand

"Why is it that every time I get sick, I get depressed?" The post on social media received many comments from others who indicated that this was certainly the case with them. I knew that it was with me as well.

Several people mentioned illnesses such as flu and respiratory infections. For me, it was hormonal issues, thyroid problems, asthma, and hypoglycemia. Each time I was at a low point physically, my depression became problematic.

Participating in mental health therapy taught me that there are reasons for this phenomena. Statistics show that those with chronic illness are much more likely to commit suicide. A bout with depression when suffering from the flu, a severe respiratory infection, or other types of sickness, is common. The following paragraphs explain why.

Do you become depressed when you are physically ill?

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1. When We Are Ill, We Decrease Our Physical Activity

Physical illness leads to a decrease in physical activity, thus a decrease in the production of the very things that help us feel good about ourselves. These "endorphin" chemicals include serotonin and dopamine.

Regular exercise feeds our feelings of self-worth and well-being as our body's endorphin production is ongoing. When we are physically ill, our body automatically slows down while our energy reserves are used for the healing process.

We can compensate for this "endorphin low" by listening to inspirational music. The emotional high we experience listening to the music also triggers the feel good chemical production in the brain, at least temporarily, and gives us a self-worth reprieve.

2. During Physical Illness, Our Social Interaction is Limited

Physical illness leads to a decrease in social interaction. We don't want others to "catch" whatever we are dealing with, therefore, we isolate ourselves. In doing so, we trigger a self-degenerating cycle. We no longer receive social accolades and boosts to our feelings of self-worth that come when we are in the presence of people we enjoy.

In addition, we don't make the effort to be our best selves. Instead, we wallow in a sense of self-pity that we don't feel well and don't have the energy or desire to get out and do anything.

The time comes, when we start to feel better, that we throw off this mentality, and realize that to get completely well, we simply need to get up and do something. Our feelings of well-being and self-worth increase, and we enjoy interaction with others even more.

The foundation of good mental health is good physical health.

— Douglas Bloch

3. Physical Illness Leads to Critical Self-Analysis

During a physical health crisis, we frequently analyze ourselves, looking for the cause and ideology of our malady. This leads to self-criticism and condemnation, further deteriorating feelings of self-worth.

We realize that we "could have" done this or that, and that we "should" be doing other things. The guilt trip we send ourselves on erodes delicate feelings of self worth to the point that we feel worse physically. Our mental state of being spirals quickly downward, and the distorted thought patterns run rampant.

What we forget is that we get sick because we are human beings, not necessarily because we have done something wrong. Self-analysis results in a realization that we could do better, as there are always better decisions that we can make. Unfortunately, when we are ill, punishing ourselves doesn't help us get well!

It is far better to relax, rest, and be kind to ourselves when we are sick. If we allow for down time, feeding our soul with inspirational reading, music, and media, we are ready to get up and get moving more quickly.

Critically analyzing ourselves during physical illness only makes us feel worse.
Critically analyzing ourselves during physical illness only makes us feel worse.

4. We Have Less Hope When Physically Down

When we are physically ill, we make incorrect assumptions about the future of our human condition, further deteriorating our hope. We fall into the thought trap of using absolutes such as

  • "I will never get well."
  • "This illness is lasting forever!"
  • "Nobody is as sick as I am!"
  • "Everybody is out having fun except me!"
  • "I am always the first one to be sick!"

The underlined words in these sentences are exaggerations. This distorted thought pattern increases our feelings of negativity and undermines feelings of self worth. Replacing these distortions with the following speeds recovery:

  • "I will feel better soon."
  • "This illness will not last forever."
  • "Sickness is just a part of life."
  • "It won't be long and I will have fun again."
  • "Everyone has a sick day now and again."

Reminding ourselves that our sickness is only temporary and taking the steps needed to nurture ourselves with positive thoughts gives us the love we need to help ourselves recover in a more timely way.

Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.

— Dieter F. Uchtdorf

The Problem with Chronic Illness

Chronic illness, by its very nature, leaves us susceptible to the distorted thought processes leading to depression and anxiety because we know that the situation is not temporary. The illness may one day become terminal and lead to our deaths, therefore, there is no hope for recovery.

The ongoing argument for euthanasia says that when our quality of life goes downhill to the point that we no longer desire to live, we have the right to choose our method of leaving this world.

In stark contrast, those who oppose euthanasia argue that there is purpose in all things, even the opposition and adversity in our lives. We will be held accountable for the choices we make, no matter what our circumstances.

During chronic illness, we would do well to shift our focus to management rather than recovery. We ask ourselves, what can I do to keep my quality of life as high as possible for as long as possible?

Do you have a chronic illness?

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Keeping Illness in Perspective

Sickness affects all of us as part of our human condition. No matter our intelligence, socioeconomic status, or location of residence, we all experience physical illness in some way or another.

Accidents happen, genetic predispositions surface, viruses and germs abound, and our physical bodies age. No matter what we do, there will come a time when we are down and out physically. The only way to ward off depression when it seeks to take up residence is to become emotionally healthy.

High quality emotional health enables us to make wise decisions, handle conflict, solve problems, use our resources wisely, and bounce back after difficulty. We increase our emotional health by taking care of ourselves. See the table below for self-care tips and their benefits.

Self-Care Tips and Their Benefits

Adequate rest
The body has time to rejuvenate.
High quality nutrition
Vital nutrients give us the building blocks necessary for healing.
Positive self-talk
Protects feelings of self-worth.
Social support
We act and talk better when we are around others and feel their love.
Move around
Movement gets our endorphins working, feeding us with positive feelings.
Listen to inspirational music
The beat and words of the music speak happiness and peace.
Read uplifting literature
Words feed the soul and give us high quality thought processes.

It is Up to Us

In the world of psychology and medicine, we talk about Activities of Daily Living (ADL). The amount of service we need, or the placement of our home residence, is dependent upon our ability to perform our ADLs. When illness gets to the point that we are no longer able to care for our own needs, a change of placement is necessary.

The table of self-care tips and benefits above is just as applicable with chronic illness as it is with temporary illness. Our ability to care for ourselves and make those decisions that keep our physical health at its optimum level are what keep us independent for as long as possible.

Since illness is part of the human condition, keeping our perspective helps us remember that illness is like any other adversity in life. Our response to it either brings out our best, or reveals our worst.

Chronic illness brings out either our best or our worst selves, it is up to us!
Chronic illness brings out either our best or our worst selves, it is up to us!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2018 Denise W Anderson


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    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      8 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Depression is the natural result of our physical health being downhill. We have a tough time getting our feet under us, and often see the negative. We overemphasize our critical nature and tend to look for things we are doing wrong. All of these lead to depression. When we are ill, it is a good time to rest, listen to music, and read inspirational literature, then we will feel better.

    • Luis G Asuncion profile image

      Luis G Asuncion 

      8 months ago from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines

      I love to read this article because sometimes I am also depressed. Thanks for sharing it.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I appreciate the feedback on the self-care chart, Dianna. Self-care is a vital part of us keeping positive feelings of self-worth. It is when we are lax in our self-care that we really get down on ourselves. We forget how important we really are, both to ourselves and those we love! Thanks for your comments!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, Chitrangada! That is a great example of how these principles work. One of the best things we can do when we are having a tough time either mentally or physically, is to move around. It gives us those feel good chemicals at the same time as it distracts us from the negative thinking spiral that we are stuck in. I appreciate your sharing your experiences!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      2 years ago

      Good article on how physical illness can lead to depression. After reading through your points, I can see how this is so true. The self-care chart lists great advice.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Great article about how physical illness leads to depression.

      I can relate to it. Some years back, I was ill for moe than a month. Confined to bed, I was so depressed, I thought I can’t be fully well. Even after every clinical report became normal, I was not feeling good. Then my doctor advised me to resume my normal day today activities, going out for light walking etc. And slowly I started getting back to my normal self.

      You have some great suggestions here, that would help many, if they are facing similar issues.

      Well done and well presented on an important subject.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks DDE. When we are down physically, it colors everything that we do. We have a hard time enjoying life, let alone thinking good thoughts or looking for positive helps. I have found that physical action is the best way to change the thought patterns that drag us down.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, Dora. These things have been such a big part of my life! I am grateful to be in a position to help others by sharing them!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      An illness does have such effects and you explained well. I know of someone who feels depressed when affected by an illness it's difficult to comprehend life in a positive way.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for your explanations on why physical illness leads to depression; thanks also for your self-care benefits. As always you help us understand ourselves and how to improve our lives.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      You are very fortunate, Bill. You have been given a rare gift! Most people grapple with physical illness at some time or another. The empathy you show for others indicates a special sensitivity, though, and that is a gift that you give to others.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, Eric! I appreciate your comment about chronic depression including hypochondria. Depression can lead to physical illness as much as physical illness can lead to depression. There is a definite correlation between the two. Physical action can help pull us out of a depression and the lack of it can bring depression on.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm never ill so I have no firsthand experience, but I believe strongly that it can lead to depression. I've seen it in others for sure.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent piece Denise. Certainly both are important to the other. It is interesting that chronic depression often includes hypochondria.

      And so the spiral must be stopped.

      I like how you connected the dots on this one.


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