Anyone who has endured a major depressive episode knows full well the debilitating impact of the accompanying fatigue on daily functioning. This is not just a matter of feeling unmotivated or lazy. Fatigue that is associated with major depression is in a class all its own. This kind of fatigue gets into the bones, affecting not only physical functioning, but also psychological and cognitive functioning as well. In this pervasive state of exhaustion, apathy and despair are bedfellows.
So, can depression cause severe fatigue? You bet. It surely is not your imagination if you find yourself struggling with persistent feelings of sadness, the cornerstone of depression, while stuck in bed all day. Depression can truly demobilize a person, causing such severe fatigue that even the most basic tasks seem insurmountable. It isn’t difficult to see how depression can have a significant impact on one’s career and home life when considering the effects of fatigue on your ability to be a fully productive and functioning person.
When wondering if you may be experiencing depression, and asking can depression cause severe fatigue, the most important step to take is to schedule a physical exam with your primary care doctor. Severe fatigue is also a common symptom in various medical conditions, which should be ruled out as a potential cause. If no health issue is diagnosed, the doctor will likely refer you to a mental health practitioner.
What Are the Signs of Depression?
While most of us think of the emotional funk associated with depression, it is often the physical symptoms that first alert us something is wrong, one of those being deep fatigue. When the symptoms persist most of the time for at least two weeks there is a good chance that it is a depressive disorder at the root of the symptoms.
According to the diagnostic criteria stated in the DSM-5, symptoms of depression include:
- Low mood, sadness, feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Slowed motor movements and cognitive functioning
- Changes in appetite, leading to sudden weight gain or loss
- Changes in sleep patterns, insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feelings of shame, worthlessness, or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Depression and Fatigue
Although depression can be clinically diagnosed with only five of the above symptoms present, fatigue tends to be one of the most commonly cited symptoms. In fact, according to a study published in Psychiatry Research, 90% of depressed patients participating in the study reported severe fatigue—and 81% of them were on antidepressants. So even the medication for treating depression can either cause fatigue or not see the fatigue symptom alleviated by the medication.
An article entitled “Fatigue as a Residual Symptom of Depression” [Targum and Fava] points out that when someone with diagnosed and treated depression continues to suffer from severe fatigue, that alone can cause them to relapse back into depression. Their impairment due to the fatigue impacts work, social, and academic pursuits, adding to feelings of despondency. When asking can depression cause severe fatigue, the answer would be yes, and severe fatigue can also cause depression.
Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder
Treating major depressive disorder usually takes the shape of a two-pronged approach: antidepressant drug therapy and psychotherapy. These treatment elements are the cornerstone of depression treatment, although to varying degrees of success. Antidepressants come in various forms and act in different nuances ways upon brain chemistry. The four categories of antidepressants include SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs, and TCAs. Antidepressants take 4-6 weeks to produce various degrees of symptom relief, although 30%-50% of patients do not achieve symptom relief from these drugs.
Psychotherapy is designed to treat the particular features of the depression, so for some individuals that may involve delving into childhood trauma to help process and heal these emotional wounds, while others may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps patients confront their negative self-messaging in response to various triggers, and then change those thought patterns toward more productive, positive ones.
Alternative Treatment Options for Depression
Traditional treatment methods don’t work for everyone. Because depression is a complex and not well understood mental health disorder, there is still not a consensus on the exact cause of it. That is what explains the variance of response levels patients have to antidepressants. In a large number of depression patients, even after trialing several different drugs, antidepressants are ineffective.
These treatment-resistant patients still have some alternative treatments to consider. Patients that were not responsive to conventional treatments have increasingly sought brain stimulation therapies out. Transcranial magenetic stimulation (TMS) is one such therapy that has been clinically proven to help about 60% of treatment-resistant patients experience symptom relief. TMS therapy is the only brain stimulation technique that does not require sedation or surgery, and is well tolerated with few reported adverse effects.
Other alternative treatments might include hypnotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and vagus nerve stimulation.
Lifestyle Tweaks that Help Depression
In addition to the clinical treatment of depression, more attention is being paid in recent years to the role of exercise, nutrition, and stress management. A sound nutritious diet is said to improve overall brain health. Regular cardio exercise produces the feel good chemicals called endorphins, and stimulates dopamine, which improve mood and sleep quality. Managing stress through such activities as deep breathing techniques, yoga, mindfulness, and massage therapy can help reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, helping one to achieve a more peaceful state of mind.
The Treatment Specialist is an Online Resource of Mental Health Information
The Treatment Specialist provides in depth information, statistics, and clinical study results about a wide range of mental health and behavioral health disorders. When wondering can depression cause severe fatigue, it implies that you or a loved one may be struggling with this serious mental health condition. The Treatment Specialist offers information about depression and the various treatment options available. For any questions about depression, please reach out to The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.