How Depression Affects Your Immune System

Nick Rosen, MD
Medically reviewed by Nick Rosen, MDSeptember 29th, 2020

Those who have never experienced depression may think of it as no more than a bad case of the blues. We picture someone who is constantly sad or who attempts suicide. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to depression symptoms.

Science has proven that this is a mental disorder that can also include physical symptoms that wreak havoc on the body as well as the mind.

Depression and the Immune System: A Close Connection

One of the places we see depression’s physical symptoms is the body’s immune system. It’s still unclear whether malfunctions in the immune system cause depression or depression causes the immune system to malfunction. But one thing is certain: there is a very close tie between the two.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. We’ve known for a long time that sleep, stress, diet, and social factors can have a huge impact on our immune system’s ability to function. And we’ve also been aware that excess stress, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, and social isolation are classic symptoms of depression. Is it so much of a leap then to understand that these are closely linked?

One recent study on mice suggests a connection between stress, depression, and immune function. In this study, mice who were repeatedly exposed to stress developed an immune response that released inflammatory proteins into the system. This inflammation caused atrophy and impaired responses in part of the brain, which in turn lead to common depressive behaviors. This chain reaction is highly suggestive of a cause-and-effect relationship linking stress, immune function, and depression.

When considering cause and effect, there are three possibilities that may explain the tie.

  1. Depression may weaken the immune system and cause increased susceptibility to illness.
  2. Major or long term illnesses may cause mood disorders such as depression.
  3. In some cases, illnesses or conditions may be caused by the same triggers as depression.

Each of these possibilities is equally likely, and there currently isn’t enough evidence to clearly discern which is most common. But what does the connection mean for those who struggle with depression or illness?


Most Common Illnesses Related to Depression

Because of this close tie, those who suffer from depression may be more prone to illness than most people. They may be more susceptible to a contagious disease, but there are also noncommunicable conditions to consider as well.

Heart Disease

Depression is commonly known to cause a lack of energy. It can also lead individuals to make poor life choices, especially when related to long-term outcomes. Problems such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and poor sleep habits can all lead to an increased risk for heart health problems including high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.


According to an article published in

JAMA Psychiatry, those hospitalized with severe infections were 62 percent more likely than average to also have a mood disorder.

Autoimmune Diseases

The same JAMA article found that hospital visits due to autoimmune disease were a marker for a 45% greater risk of mood disorders such as depression. Disorders such as Graves’ disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and others can cause abnormally low or high immune system activity. They can also cause long-term pain or disability, which has been shown to lead to depression in some cases.

Home Treatment for Urgent Injuries and Illnesses

COVID team walking

When facing mental health problems, seeking treatment for a severe illness or injury can be more difficult than many realize. Just the simple act of getting dressed and leaving the house is more than some can manage. Fortunately, there’s a better option.

DispatchHealth is the home care alternative that will bring medical care to your living room. In addition to treating acute health problems, DispatchHealth can prescribe medications, take blood tests and suture wounds. Each medical kit brought on-site contains nearly all of the tools and technologies found in an ER, allowing the medical team to perform a variety of advanced tests and lab treatments, including a 12-lead EKG, IV fluids, placing catheters and more.

Imagine a caring team of ER-trained medical staff who come to you to help you feel better! The best part? The medical cost for a DispatchHealth visit is about one-tenth of the medical cost for an emergency room visit. And since they meet you in your home, they’re uniquely situated to assess more than just physical health. So the next time you need medical care, why not get it delivered?


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:


The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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