One of the most common problems that people with eating disorders also suffer from is depression. Depression can be described as a state of sadness; however, major depression is a serious illness that affects personal behavior, thoughts and physical health. Sadness is an emotion that may be connected to a specific event or situation, whereas depression may occur even when it seems like other things are going well. Symptoms of major depression include

  • Depressed mood (which can manifest as sadness or emptiness) most of the day and nearly every day for at least two weeks.
  • Loss of interest in activities and/or relationships (even activities and relationships typically enjoyed).
  • Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep at all.
  • Fatigue or a loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death and/or suicide.

Certain symptoms of depression can also be caused by not getting enough to eat, or by other medical problems. Some depressive symptoms may improve as the eating disorder improves. However, some people report that their depression began before their eating disorder. Either way, depression is a complicating factor and can make treatment and recovery more complex.

Depression affects about 25 million Americans each year. For reasons not yet understood, depression occurs significantly more frequently in women than in men. By the age of 15, adolescent girls are twice as likely to experience major depression as boys. Eating disorders and the stressors they bring to the physical body often intensify an episode of major depression. If depression is coupled with an eating disorder, it is imperative to find a treatment plan that will address physical, mental, and behavioral issues.


Antidepressants and psychotherapy are often the first forms of treatment people try for relief of their major depression symptoms. Coping skills are created through psychotherapy while medication can relieve the symptoms of depression. Both depression and eating disorders are often successfully treated using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the idea that a sufferer can learn to recognize negative thoughts (sometimes called “eating disorder thoughts” in eating disorder treatment) and work to challenge and replace them with more rational, positive thoughts. The idea is that as the negative thoughts are challenged and replaced, the negative emotions and disordered behaviors will also change. Our staff here at the Eating Disorders Treatment Center is well versed in applying CBT techniques in the treatment of depression and eating disorders.

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