Depression and Eating Disorders

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of intense sadness, helplessness, worthlessness, anxiety, and/or guilt.  Individuals suffering with depression may experience loss of appetite, insomnia, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable, difficulty concentrating, and loss of energy.  Depression can affect the various components of a person’s life, including thoughts, feelings, and overall physical well-being.  If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, you may find that you are also dealing with a co-occurring disorder, such as an eating disorder or substance abuse.

Depression Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of depression include the following in varying combinations:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exhaustion and low energy levels
  • Becoming socially withdrawn or secluded
  • Ideations of death or suicide
  • Difficulty sleeping or undue sleeping
  • Feelings of self-hate, guilt, or insignificance
  • Nervousness or irritability
  • Alteration in appetite, with weight fluctuations
  • Feelings of anger and discouragement
  • Psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations

What Causes Depression

Though the exact cause of depression is unknown, it is hypothesized that various components can be responsible for the development of depression, including genetic, environmental, and physiological factors.  Examples of these factors include traumatic life events, side effects of particular medications, substance abuse, or hormonal imbalances.

The effects of depression can be debilitating for both the individual sufferer and their loved ones.  Depression can distort and misrepresent one’s perception of life, influencing the view of circumstances in a negative light.  Depression commonly exists with other mental illness, such as anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, and eating disorders.

Connection & Relationship between Anxiety and Eating Disorders

Depression can lead to the development of eating disorders; likewise, eating disorders can also result in depression, as co-occurring disorders. For example, when being in a malnourished state, which is common in eating disorders, physiological consequences may result, such as poor mood states or feelings of worthlessness.  Although depression and eating disorders are two separate illnesses, one state can certainly trigger the development of the other.

Treatment of Eating Disorders and Anxiety

Because of the complex nature of depression and eating disorders and the overlapping factors of both, it is critical to treat both conditions simultaneously.  In addressing underlying factors that are contributing to the progression of eating disorders and depression, it may be discovered that both stem from similar causes; thus the importance in caring for both.

Treatment for both conditions would include a comprehensive medical team that encompasses a physician, therapist, and nutritionist.  This will allow the various facets of both conditions to be addressed and treated properly.  Individualized treatment plans may include psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), music and/or art therapy, group support therapy, and medicines such as antidepressants. It is important to select the top eating disorder center for your needs that treats anxiety as a co-occurring disorder.

Articles Relating to Eating Disorders and Depression

  • The stigma of mental health likely comes from several areas including misunderstanding of the less “tangible” or “biological” nature of mental health concerns and larger-scale cultural beliefs about those with mental health conditions.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 25, 2012

Page last updated: June 12, 2012
Published on, Online Resource for Eating Disorders