Eating Disorders and Depression
October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, which brings awareness to the need for depression and mental health screenings. Along with other mental health conditions, depression frequently overlaps with eating disorders. In this article, we will cover common myths about depression, how to support a loved one with depression and an eating disorder, and how to notice the signs of depression in order to get someone help.
Depression and other mood disorders co-occur with eating disorders quite frequently. Research shows that 32–39% of people with anorexia nervosa, 36–50% of people with bulimia nervosa, and 33% of people with binge eating disorder are also diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The relationship between depression and eating disorders is complex. Depression can make people more likely to feel negative about their bodies, which can put them at risk for an eating disorder. Eating disorders can make people more at risk for the development of depression, particularly if they experience rapid weight loss or starvation.
5 Myths About Depression
Depression, similar to eating disorders, is not widely understood, still carries stigma, and requires more education. Here are five myths about depression that can be incredibly damaging, as well as explanations for how they are inaccurate.
1. “Depression isn’t a real illness”
Some people can mistake depression for merely feelings of sadness, when in actuality it’s a complex mental health condition. Depression is a condition where an individual’s brain chemistry, function, and structure are negatively affected by biological and environmental factors. Depression should be viewed as serious and can be treated with therapy and occasionally medication.
2. “If you can function, you’re not really depressed”
Depression, like eating disorders, affects everyone differently. For some people, getting out of bed in the morning can feel like an impossible task, while for others, it is possible to go to work and function in their everyday lives. Just because someone is able to through the motions of their day does not mean that they are not experiencing depression, however. Just because someone is able to hide it does not mean that they are not suffering.
3. “There has to be a reason you’re depressed”
While it is true that life challenges or traumatic events can contribute to the onset of depression, genetics and brain chemistry also play a role. Those experiencing depression do not always have a life challenge or traumatic event that prompts the disorder. There may not be anything particularly “wrong” happening in their lives, and depression can still distort someone’s perception of the world and themselves.
4. “Depression only affects women”
There is often the misconception that only women experience depression, when in reality men often just don’t talk about it as often as women do. In the U.S., four times as many men die by suicide than women, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many men in our society are taught from a young age to bottle up their emotions and never show any weakness, and talking about your depression and asking for help can be seen as weakness. True strength is knowing when you need to reach out for help. Men should be encouraged to be in touch with their emotions and know that asking for help does not make them less strong or masculine.
5. “Talking about it only makes it worse”
Our final myth is that discussing depression only reinforces destructive feelings and keeps you focused on negative experiences in life. For many people, being alone with their thoughts is much more harmful than working through them. Sitting down with a professional to talk about your thoughts and feelings can make a monumental difference in your mental health. Not only can that professional be a nonjudgmental listener, but they can also provide strategies to combat negative thoughts.
How to Support Someone with Depression
All of the misconceptions discussed above are extremely stigmatizing for people who live with depression. It is important to educate ourselves on all mental health disorders, including depression and eating disorders, so that we can break the harmful stigmas that surround them. If you have a loved one who is experiencing depression, it is important to acknowledge that depression looks different for everyone. Another great way to support a loved one with depression or an eating disorder is to validate their feelings. Showing them compassion and listening without judgment can be just what that person needs.
Everyone Deserves Help
Managing depression can greatly improve one’s wellbeing, as well as their eating disorder and their attitude toward it. Experiencing depression in addition to an eating disorder can make seeking help all the more difficult. Some common signs of depression to look out for in those around you are sleeping too much or too little, using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings, trouble concentrating, loss of interest in hobbies, and more. It is important that if you notice the signs of depression or an eating disorder in your loved one that you encourage them to seek treatment. It is essential that the eating disorder and the depression are both addressed in treatment. Both of these disorders require personalized, comprehensive support.