The Relationship Between PTSD and Depression

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A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression commonly co-occur. If you've received a dual diagnosis, here's why the conditions may be related.

Symptoms of Depression

Everyone feels sad from time to time, but depression is different from just feeling unhappy or sad. Depression is more intense, lasts longer, and has a large negative impact on your life. These symptoms of depression are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):

  • Depressed mood almost every day and for the majority of the day
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Considerable weight loss or weight gain
  • Difficulties falling asleep or sleeping too much
  • Feeling constantly on edge, restless or lethargic, and "slowed down"
  • Feeling worthless and/or guilty
  • Difficulties concentrating and/or making decisions
  • Thoughts of dying and/or ending your life

According to the DSM-5, to be diagnosed with a major depressive episode, you must experience five of these symptoms within the same two-week period (or longer) and they must be a change from how you normally function.

How Often PTSD and Depression Coincide

Depression is one of the most commonly occurring diagnoses in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, researchers have found that among people who have (or have had) a diagnosis of PTSD, approximately 48 percent to 55 percent also experienced current or previous depression. People who have had PTSD at some point in their lives are three to five times as likely as people without PTSD to also have depression.

How They Are Connected

PTSD and depression may be connected in a number of ways. First, people with depression are more likely to have traumatic experiences than people without depression, which, in turn, may increase the likelihood that PTSD develops.

A second possibility is that the symptoms of PTSD can be so distressing and debilitating that they actually cause depression to develop. Some people with PTSD may feel detached or disconnected from friends and family. They may also find little pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. Finally, they may even have difficulty experiencing positive emotions like joy and happiness. It's easy to see how experiencing these symptoms of PTSD may make someone feel very sad, lonely, and depressed.

A final possibility is that there is some kind of genetic factor involved in the development of both PTSD and depression.

Getting Treatment

If you have PTSD, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you address your PTSD symptoms, the less likely they will become worse and increase your risk for depression.

If you currently have PTSD and depression, it's also important to get treatment as soon as possible. Each disorder may make the other worse. Since PTSD and depression are commonly co-occurring mental disorders, mental health professionals trained in the treatment of PTSD are also usually well-trained in the treatment of depression. In addition, some treatments, such as behavioral activation, may be equally good in treating PTSD and depression.

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