Depression, anxiety & illness

Last updated 01 July 2016 — Last reviewed 10 March 2014

Some health conditions like thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome and type 2 diabetes are associated with an increase in depression and anxiety. When this happens it is important to treat both the illness and your mental and emotional health.

Thyroid conditions

If the thyroid is not working properly your metabolism can be affected. Some thyroid conditions can lead to depression or anxiety. Thyroid conditions affect women five times more often than men. 

About your thyroid

thyroid glandYour thyroid is a small butterfly or bow tie shaped gland, located in your neck, wrapped around the windpipe.

The thyroid gland takes iodine (mostly found in foods such as seafood and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. Two key thyroid hormones are: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones help oxygen get into cells and regulate the body's metabolism. The thyroid hormones affect important functions such as growth.

Hypothyroidism & depression

If your thyroid is under active, the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones and symptoms of hypothyroidism may occur. The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. Depression is one of those symptoms. Other symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • mental fogginess and forgetfulness
  • feeling excessively cold
  • constipation
  • dry skin
  • fluid retention
  • non-specific aches and stiffness in muscles and joints
  • heavy periods

As well as the physical symptoms, Dr Jennifer Wong a consultant endocrinologist (hormone specialist) says “there may be emotional impacts for women too. Weight gain may lead to body image and self–image concerns, but often women have no motivation or energy to exercise. This negative cycle can make women even more depressed.”

Hyperthyroidism & anxiety

An overactive thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormones and is called hyperthyroidism. This happens in almost four per cent of women and 0.2 per cent of men. Signs and symptoms can be similar to anxiety symptoms including:

  • rapid heart rate
  • breathlessness
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • sweating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • palpitations
  • weight loss
  • irregular periods

Management & treatment

A blood test detects hypothyroidism and treatment is usually a daily tablet to replace the missing thyroid hormone. Symptoms improve within three to five weeks.

A blood test is also used to detect hyperthyroidism. Depending on the cause, you may need anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine treatment (which destroys thyroid cells that make thyroid hormones) or surgery to remove the thyroid gland.

Treatment of the thyroid condition should usually help with symptoms of depression and anxiety as long as you do not have other factors causing these problems.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

This hormonal condition affects approximately 12% of women and it is known to affect mental health including increased rates of depression and anxiety. There is more information on emotions and PCOS on our PCOS webpages.

Type 2 diabetes

Women with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing depression.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes (85-90% of diabetes cases). It usually develops in people over the age of 45, but is becoming increasingly common at a younger age.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which there is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. The rise in glucose occurs because the body can't make enough insulin or the insulin produced is not working properly (insulin resistant). Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that moves glucose from the blood stream into the cells of the body where it is used for energy.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

It often occurs in people who are overweight and inactive and who have:

  • a family history of diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • abnormal blood fats or cholesterol

Link with depression & anxiety

There may be a physical connection between the hormones that affect diabetes and an increased risk of depression, however more research is needed.

Because there is so much publicity about type 2 diabetes, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can cause some women to feel embarrassed or guilty. Having negative feelings like these does not mean that you have depression, but they can add to any existing feelings of depression or anxiety.

When to see your doctor

If you are feeling depressed or anxious about your:

  • diagnosis of diabetes
  • managing your diabetes

See your doctor and discuss the best ways to manage and treat the depression and your diabetes.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.

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