Understanding the Impact of Untreated Depression

Depression is a debilitating condition that affects every facet of life. Beyond its mental and emotional toll, depression manifests with physical symptoms and makes routine tasks like work, school, and maintaining relationships challenging. Left untreated, it can lead to long-term health complications.

Despite the availability of effective treatments like medication and therapy, roughly 21 million adults in the United States [9] grapple with depression without seeking help. While there can be various reasons why individuals don’t seek treatment, misconceptions about depression are a common factor. Data shows that in 2020, nearly 40% of adults experiencing major depressive episodes did not seek treatment [9].

Seeking help and treatment for depression is crucial for managing symptoms and improving overall well-being. With proper support, individuals can learn coping mechanisms, receive necessary medical intervention, and work towards recovery. It’s important to recognize that depression is a treatable condition, and reaching out for help is a courageous and proactive step toward healing.

In the following article, we will explain depression and clinical depression, its symptoms, how untreated depression can impact the brain and body, explore underlying causes, and explain the benefits of psychiatric support and treatment.

What Is Major Depression?

Major depression, also called major depressive disorder (MDD) and referred to as clinical depression, is a serious mental health condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. 

While there are many types of depression, clinical depression is a more severe mood disorder, and for someone to receive a major depression diagnosis, individuals need to have five or more specific symptoms that last almost every day for at least two weeks [3].

Doctors also need to make sure these symptoms aren’t caused by something else, like a medical condition or drug use, and that there’s no sign of bipolar disorder [3]. While MDD can be chronic, occurring in episodes lasting weeks or months, it is treatable with medications and psychotherapy [3].

What Are The Symptoms of Depression?

Symptoms of clinical depression can differ from person to person and vary in severity from mild to severe, but they persist for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.

Signs and symptoms include [7]:

  • Feeling consistently sad or down for an extended period, often without any clear reason.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in once pleasurable activities, such as hobbies or socializing.
  • Significant changes in weight or eating habits, either loss of appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much (insomnia or hypersomnia).
  • Feeling either unusually restless and agitated or slowed down physically and mentally. The medical term for this is psychomotor agitation or retardation.
  • Persistent feelings of low energy or feeling tired even after rest or sleep.
  • Low self-esteem, feeling worthless, or experiencing excessive guilt over past actions or perceived failures.
  • Trouble focusing, remembering things, or making simple decisions.
  • Thoughts about death or suicide, dying, self-harming, or having plans or urges to commit suicide.

Other symptoms may include [7]:

  • Feeling anxious, tense, or on edge often co-occurs with depression but is not considered a core symptom.
  • Lack of interest (apathy), enthusiasm, or motivation, often overlapping with diminished interest or energy levels.
  • Difficulty with thinking, concentration, or memory, which may persist even after other symptoms improve.
  • Problems with sexual desire, arousal, or performance.

People may feel stuck in a cycle of despair, unable to enjoy things they used to love. Even simple tasks can seem overwhelming, and relationships may suffer as communication breaks down. Sleep patterns can become irregular, and changes in appetite may cause weight fluctuations.

What’s most worrying is the increased risk of having thoughts of suicide or engaging in self-harming behaviors that untreated depression can bring. It’s a dangerous path that no one should go through alone.

If you or someone you know shows signs of depression, especially if there are thoughts of death, dying, harming oneself, or plans for suicide, it’s crucial to seek help from a healthcare professional or mental health provider immediately.

What Causes Depression?

Clinical depression affects a significant portion of the population and can occur at any age. However, it’s more common in individuals without close interpersonal relationships and those who have experienced stressful life events [3].

Understanding what causes depression can be complex, but there are a range of factors that may play a role in who develops depression; these include:

  • Genetic Factors: While genetics can play a role – if someone in your family has had depression, you might be more likely to experience it too – it’s not solely determined by your genes [2].
  • Life Events and Trauma: Traumatic experiences and significant life events can act as triggers for depression [2]. The loss of a loved one, chronic illness, physical or sexual abuse, or enduring stressors like financial difficulties can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms [2]. These experiences can overwhelm coping mechanisms and lead to persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness [2].
  • Biological Factors: Depression involves the way different chemicals in our brain, like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, interact with each other [2]—changes in how these chemicals work can make us feel depressed. Also, when there are problems with how our brain is structured or how it works, it can contribute to depression [2].
  • Social and Environmental Influences: Depression can also be influenced by the world around us. Stressful situations like problems in relationships, stress at work, or feeling lonely can make us more likely to feel depressed [2]. Understanding these factors is important for finding ways to prevent and treat depression effectively.

Depression doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Some people might be more prone to depression because of their genes, while others might develop it because of things happening in their lives, like difficult events or stressful situations. Everyone’s experience with depression can be different because of the mix of genes, biology, and life experiences.

Understanding these different factors that contribute to depression helps us better support those who are struggling and find ways to prevent and treat it effectively. It’s important to realize that depression is complex and can affect people in different ways, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

The Impact of Untreated Depression on the Brain and Body

It is never a good idea to ignore depression. Without help, depression can worsen over time, affecting not just mental well-being but physical health as well, and has been associated as a factor with an increased risk of developing mental health diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia; in fact, research has shown that older adults who have had depression since they were middle-aged had an 80% greater chance of developing dementia [6].

Impact on the brain

Researchers have found that depression doesn’t just affect our emotions; it also has a noticeable impact on our brains. Using advanced brain imaging techniques like MRI, scientists have discovered several key changes in the brains of people with depression; these include [12]:

  • Structural Changes: MRI scans have revealed alterations in the brain’s structure in people with depression, including differences in size and shape of certain regions such as the frontal lobe, thalamus, striatum, and amygdala.
  • White Matter Alterations: White matter alterations in areas like the cingulum are observed in individuals with depression, potentially affecting communication between brain regions and contributing to depressive symptoms.
  • Functional Changes: Abnormal activity patterns in regions such as the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe are associated with mood regulation and emotional processing in individuals with depression.
  • Brain Circuits: Depression affects various brain circuits responsible for mood, cognition, and emotion regulation, including the prefrontal-subcortical circuit and connections between the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, essential for memory and emotional regulation.
  • Changes in Brain Size: Untreated depression may lead to changes in the size of certain brain areas, particularly the hippocampus, impacting memory and emotions.
  • Impact on Cognitive Function: Changes in the brain due to untreated depression may impair cognitive abilities such as thinking, memory, and decision-making.
  • Long-Term Risks: Untreated depression could have lasting effects on the brain, potentially making future episodes more likely and more challenging to treat with medication.

Impact on the body

Depression doesn’t just affect your mood; it can take a toll on your physical health, too. Ignoring depression can make things worse over time, leading to a range of bodily issues.

Here’s how untreated depression can impact your body:

  • Physical Symptoms: Depression often comes with physical symptoms like chronic pain in joints, limbs, or back, stomach problems, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and changes in appetite [11]. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, like serotonin and norepinephrine, play a role in both mood and pain. When depression goes untreated, these chemicals can get out of balance, making you more sensitive to physical pain [11].
  • Inflammation: Research suggests that untreated depression can lead to more inflammation in your brain and body. This inflammation not only makes depression worse but also increases the risk of other health problems [4].
  • Heart Health: People with untreated depression are more likely to have heart problems like coronary heart disease and heart attacks. Studies show they have a 30% higher risk of these conditions compared to those without depression [5].
  • Stroke Risk: Depression can increase the risk of both types of stroke and make it harder to recover afterward. It also raises the chance of dying from a stroke, especially if depression is left untreated [8].
  • Risky Behaviors: Untreated depression can lead to risky behaviors like heavy drinking and drug use, which can cause problems in many areas of life, including relationships, work, and the law.

The role of mental health stigma in untreated depression

The role of mental health stigma in untreated depression is a significant issue in today’s society. Stigma, driven by misunderstandings and cultural norms, often stops individuals from seeking necessary help for their depression [10].

Stigma’s Impact on Seeking Help

Stigma surrounding mental health, especially within families and social circles, can deter people from seeking professional help for depression [10]. Misconceptions, such as viewing depression as a sign of weakness or a normal emotion, contribute to this reluctance [10]. Cultural beliefs can make things more complex, with some communities attributing depression to supernatural causes or moral failings [10].

Influence of Family and Friends

Family and friends play a key role in shaping attitudes toward depression and treatment [10]. Unfortunately, stigma within these groups can discourage individuals from seeking professional help [10]. Instead, well-meaning but unhelpful advice, like praying or “toughening up,” may be given, reinforcing stigma and delaying treatment [10].

Cultural Factors and Misconceptions

Cultural norms and beliefs can worsen mental health stigma, making it harder for individuals to seek help [10]. Some cultures see depression as taboo or shameful, leading to a reluctance to acknowledge it or talk about it openly [10]. Additionally, supernatural beliefs or moral views on mental illness may hinder treatment-seeking [10].

Breaking the Cycle: To tackle depression stigma

  • We must address mental health stigma among families and friends to break the cycle of untreated depression.
  • Tailored education and awareness programs can dispel myths about depression within specific cultural contexts.
  • Encouraging open conversations and providing accurate information about depression and its treatment options can empower individuals to seek help without fear of judgment or shame.

Untreated depression, driven by mental health stigma, remains a significant public health concern. By challenging misunderstandings, promoting understanding, and encouraging acceptance within families and social circles, we can remove barriers to depression treatment and support individuals in their journey to recovery.

The importance of seeking professional support

Getting professional help is vital for those dealing with depression. While advice from family and friends might be well-intentioned, it’s often not enough to address the complex challenges of mental illness.

Seeking support from a trained mental health professional ensures accurate diagnosis and access to effective treatment options. Early intervention can make a significant difference in managing symptoms and preventing further distress. Despite societal stigma or misconceptions, seeking professional help is crucial to improving mental health and overall well-being.

Benefits of psychiatry and mental health treatments

Psychiatry offers a multitude of benefits in addressing depression, utilizing psychotherapy, medication, and alternative treatments such as TMS therapy.

Psychiatry and Medication

Psychiatrists and other licensed providers in the field are equipped to evaluate both the mental and physical aspects of mental disorders like depression. They can prescribe medications such as antidepressants, which play a crucial role in enhancing quality of life and alleviating symptoms.


Psychotherapy, a form of treatment tailored to individuals with various mental health conditions and emotional challenges, provides numerous advantages. It aids in symptom relief and helps uncover underlying causes, ultimately promoting better functioning and emotional well-being [1].

Various types of psychotherapy, including talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and dialectical behavior therapy, target specific issues like depression or anxiety [1].

Research suggests that psychotherapy, often combined with medication, delivers positive outcomes for approximately 75% of patients. These benefits extend beyond psychological improvements to tangible outcomes such as reduced sick days and increased work satisfaction [1]. Additionally, psychotherapy has been found to induce positive changes in the brain akin to those observed with medication, underscoring its effectiveness in treating mental illness [1].

TMS Therapy

In some cases, individuals may have tried multiple medications that didn’t work and struggle with treatment-resistant depression or they may be cautious when it comes to taking psychiatric medications, fueling the issue surrounding untreated depression. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a non-invasive treatment that has proven to effectively treat depression and other mental health conditions. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, TMS therapy is an outpatient treatment that does not require sedation. An electromagnet emits gentle pulses that stimulate the prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for mood regulation.

Key Takeaway

Ignoring depression won’t make it disappear; instead, it can worsen, affecting every aspect of life and making it harder to find a solution. Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a brave step toward finding happiness and well-being. If you or someone you care about is dealing with depression, know that help is available.

By spreading awareness, improving access to resources, and fighting against stigma, we can ensure that support is within reach. You’re not alone in this journey. Reach out, seek assistance, and take steps toward healing and recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, contact Neuro Wellness Spa today to learn more about our in-person and online psychiatry services and alternative treatments like TMS therapy. Our dedicated team provides personalized treatments and compassionate support to help you on your journey to wellness. Take the first step towards a brighter future with Neuro Wellness Spa.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). What is psychotherapy? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/psychotherapy
  2. Chand, S. P., & Arif, H. (2024). Depression. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430847/
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Clinical depression (major depressive disorder). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24481-clinical-depression-major-depressive-disorder
  4. DiSalvo, D. (2018, April 6). How untreated depression changes the brain over time. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuronarrative/201804/how-untreated-depression-changes-the-brain-over-time
  5. Gan, Y., Gong, Y., Tong, X., Sun, H., Cong, Y., Dong, X., … Lu, Z. (2014). Depression and the risk of coronary heart disease: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMC Psychiatry, 14, 371. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-014-0371-z
  6. Harvard Health Publishing. (2012, October 1). Depression: Early warning of dementia? Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/depression-early-warning-of-dementia
  7. Kennedy, S. H. (2008). Core symptoms of major depressive disorder: Relevance to diagnosis and treatment. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 10(3), 271–277. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2008.10.3/shkennedy
  8. Khan, A. I., Abuzainah, B., Gutlapalli, S. D., Chaudhuri, D., Khan, K. I., Al Shouli, R., … Hamid, P. (2023). Effect of major depressive disorder on stroke risk and mortality: A systematic review. Cureus, 15(6), e40475. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.40475
  9. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  10. Samari, E., Teh, W. L., Roystonn, K., Devi, F., Cetty, L., Shahwan, S., & Subramaniam, M. (2022). Perceived mental illness stigma among family and friends of young people with depression and its role in help-seeking: A qualitative inquiry. BMC Psychiatry, 22(1), 107. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-022-03754-0
  11. Trivedi, M. H. (2004). The link between depression and physical symptoms. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(Suppl 1), 12–16.
  12. Zhang, F. F., Peng, W., Sweeney, J. A., Jia, Z. Y., & Gong, Q. Y. (2018). Brain structure alterations in depression: Psychoradiological evidence. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 24(11), 994–1003. https://doi.org/10.1111/cns.12835
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