Possible Complications of Major Depressive Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 13, 2024
3 min read

Major depressive disorder (MDD) can cause more than depression.  It can lead to complications that affect your health and change how you think and behave.

When you’re depressed, it’s no surprise you turn to food for comfort. (Some call this practice emotional eating.)  

MDD can also scramble your appetite hormones, so you eat a lot more than normal. Some antidepressants even make you put on pounds. In fact, weight gain is one of the main reasons people stop taking their depression meds.

Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian who understands and works with MDD.

People who have MDD often have one or more long-term diseases, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes  

Though many of these conditions don't have cures, you can manage them. But depression makes them harder to treat and control. This may partly explain why men and women who have MDD die sooner than people who aren’t depressed.

Lifestyle factors like lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and alcohol misuse may also contribute to poor health and early death.

There’s a strong link between physical pain and depression. They share some of the same neurotransmitters -- brain chemicals that act as messengers between nerves. They also share some of the same nerve pathways in your brain and spinal cord.

So depression can make you more sensitive to pain, and chronic pain can fuel depression. Because the two have so many links, doctors often treat them together, sometimes with the same meds. For example, a type of antidepressant called a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) may also work for nerve pain and anxiety.

To manage difficult feelings, you might try to cut or burn your skin, pull out hair, or pick at scabs. Doing drugs or drinking at the same time makes serious injury more likely.

Self-harm is more common in teens and tweens, but it can also happen later in life. If you’re struggling with it, talk to your doctor or a trusted friend or family member. It takes more than willpower to quit. 

You might have suicidal thoughts during severe MDD flares. These go away when you get treatment. If you ever think about ending your life, call your doctor, a local crisis center, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

About one-third of people with MDD have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Both can change how your mind and body work.

When you use substances the wrong way, you’re more likely to get other mental health disorders, like anxiety. And if you have thoughts of suicide, there’s a greater chance you’ll act on them.  

MDD can change the way your brain works. You might have trouble focusing or remembering a word or someone’s name. This can happen during or between bouts of severe depression. And it can make it harder to function in all areas of your life -- work, school, and personal relationships.  

Antidepressants may not improve cognitive symptoms, and they might not get better when depression lifts. Other types of treatments may help, though. Cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) teaches you how to overcome brain-related challenges. Common talk therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness therapy, can work well, too.