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The Link Between Depression and Other Mental Illnesses

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Is There a Link Between Depression and Eating Disorders? continued...

The two most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Eating disorders are most common among teenage girls and women. These disorders often get worse the longer they go untreated. The lack of nutrition associated with eating disorders can harm the body's organs and, in severe cases, lead to death.

People with anorexia purposefully starve themselves, despite their hunger. They tend to excel in sports, school, and work -- often seeking perfection. Some people with anorexia stop eating in order to gain a feeling of control over their lives. Others may do so to rebel against parents and other loved ones. The diagnosis of anorexia nervosa requires that a person weigh at least 15% less than his or her ideal body weight. It is estimated that up to 3.7% of females will suffer from anorexia at some time during their lives.

Anorexia is primarily a food restriction disorder. However, it is not uncommon for people with anorexia to purge, or empty themselves, through vomiting and abuse of laxatives, enemas, and diuretics. 

People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food all at once and then vomit. The vomiting may occur multiple times during a day. The vomiting is triggered by a fear of weight gain or stomach discomfort. People with bulimia also use laxatives, diuretics, and vigorous exercise to purge themselves.

In order for a person to be diagnosed with bulimia, this behavior must occur at least twice a week for three months in a row. Although people with bulimia are often underweight, they may also have a normal body weight. It is estimated that bulimia will affect up to 4.2% of females at some point in their lives.

What About Substance Abuse and Depression?

Substance abuse -- which is linked to depression -- is the use of drugs or alcohol to the point of social, financial, legal, occupational, or physical harm. Millions of Americans abuse drugs or alcohol for a variety of reasons, among them to cope with stress and anxiety. Biological factors, such as a genetic tendency, may also play a role. Substance abuse may include some of the following symptoms:

  • Continuing to use the substance despite the knowledge of its harmful effects on one's physical and mental condition.
  • Finding it impossible to discontinue use despite making efforts.
  • Giving up or reducing social, recreational, and work-related activities because of substance use.
  • Increasing the amount of a substance used over time.
  • Spending lots of time and effort either getting the substance or recovering from its use.
  • Needing to increase the amounts of a substance in order to become intoxicated, or experiencing a diminished effect from continued use of the same amount.
  • Taking more of the substance to ease withdrawal symptoms.
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, shaking, insomnia, agitation, hallucination, and sweating following a reduction in the amount of a substance taken.

There are varied approaches to treating people with substance abuse. Some will need detoxification in a hospital or a clinic. Rehabilitation may include one-on-one counseling, group counseling, and support groups. Antidepressant medicines -- in combination with education to help people address and conquer the emotions that cause them to abuse drugs or alcohol -- can also be effective.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 13, 2014
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