Depression can be a cause of, as well as a side effect of, a large number of mental health issues, including eating disorders. Even in the absence of a true eating disorder, a person suffering from depression can experience appetite disturbances, dramatic and unhealthy weight loss, general malnutrition and overall poor health.
Depression as a Trigger to Unhealthy Weight Loss
Whatever its root causes, depression typically results in characteristic signs and symptoms which manifest themselves in observable changes in behavior, appearance and health. People suffering from depression often experience drastic changes in normal everyday behavior and habits, such as eating and sleeping.
While characteristic of depression, these changes are not uniform and may present differently in different individuals. For example, although sleep disturbances are common in people suffering from depression, some people may suffer from insomnia while others sleep excessively.
Similarly, while depressed individuals typically experience changes in appetite and eating patterns, some people may seek refuge in food the same way that some people seek refuge in drugs while other depressed individuals may experience a drastic loss of appetite.
A depressed person who experiences significant appetite loss will naturally begin to eat less, possibly to the point of becoming malnourished and emaciated. There are grave consequences to this situation, and the person’s health is likely to deteriorate to a dangerous degree. He or she may experience any number of related health issues, such as damage to vital organs. Furthermore, the situation is likely to compound the depression further.
Experiencing drastic changes in eating and sleeping patterns is a classic warning sign of depression and may be an indication that it is time to seek professional help.
Depression in Relation to Eating Disorders
Many studies have established a connection between depression and eating disorders, especially bulimia. A study conducted at Stanford University found a connection between eating disorders and “the full range of depressive disorders” and concluded that depression leads to bulimia much more often than to anorexia, but may contribute to anorexia as well.
Mandy McCarthy of the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychology has compiled an exhaustive set of clinical studies and determined that the “culture of thinness” so pervasive in western society leads to a high degree of body dissatisfaction, particularly among girls and women. This in turn leads to depression, which then leads to eating disorders.
There may be many possible causes of depression that contributes to an eating disorder; however, eating disorders have often been linked to childhood physical or sexual abuse. According to Mary Anne Cohen, director of The New York Center for Eating Disorders, 40 to 60 percent of both male and female patients with eating disorders experienced some form of abuse in childhood, which contributes to their depression and other symptoms of trauma. Of course, this figure is based on observation from her practice and is not based on clinical studies or statistical evidence.
A much more scientific assessment has been done by Dawn Myers of Vanderbilt University who also compiled a huge amount of data from various studies done over the years. Myers concludes that childhood sexual abuse may contribute to bulimia, but there is no evidence that it contributes to anorexia.