When people hear the word "depression," most of them think only of sadness. Sadness, though, is only one of the symptoms of major depression. Others include a lack of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, appetite and sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, feelings or worthlessness or guilt and irritability. According to the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance, two-thirds of people who suffer from depression do not seek treatment. This is unfortunate, because untreated depression can lead to serious health consequences.
Several studies suggest that untreated depression is closely related to heart disease. The National Institute of Health states that people who are depressed are four times more likely to have a heart attack than those who are not depressed. After the heart attack occurs, depressed people have a harder time making health decisions. They are also less likely to follow medical instructions and to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Perhaps given these facts, it is not surprising that depressed people suffer a higher risk of death in the months immediately following a heart attack.
Another problem that can result from untreated depression is substance abuse. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, also known as NAMI, 29 percent of people with a diagnosed mental illness abuse alcohol or drugs. People with depression may drink or take mood-altering drugs to alleviate their symptoms and feel better. This is called self-medication, and it rarely works. While alcohol produces a temporary high, it is a depressant and actually ends up making depression symptoms worse. A person with a mental health problem and a substance abuse problem has a "dual diagnosis." Successful treatment must address both issues.
Untreated depression can also lead to suicide. In the United States, around 30,000 people die by suicide every year. Suicide causes more deaths than liver disease, Alzheimer's disease and homicide. The website Suicide.org reports that the leading cause of suicide is depression that has not been treated or that has not been treated adequately.
Every year, 19 million people in the United States experience the troubling and painful symptoms of depression. Most of them can be treated successfully with talk therapy, medication or a combination of the two. Some people, though, are reluctant to seek help because of the stigma that still surrounds mental health problems or because they don't realize they have a treatable condition. Sadly, depression that goes untreated can cause additional physical and emotional problems.