What Is Causing Your Depression?

So my hypothyroid medication continues to help my depression, and an increased dosage will probably help with my other symptoms. But this brings up an important point: is it possible that your depression is being caused by an underlying medical problem?

When I complained about  being tired, or having a lot of pain, people always reminded me that depression has been shown to cause tiredness and aches and pains. And that’s true, and I’m sure that there are people whose tiredness and pain are simply a result of their depression. But in my case, fatigue, pain, and depression were all themselves symptoms of something else: hypothyroidism. Despite my complaints about these symptoms and my weight gain, none of my doctors ever thought to test my thyroid, and in fact, one of them continued to think that every single complaint I came in to her with was my depression! I’m sorry, but depression doesn’t cause ulnar tunnel.


Depression can be genetic (I certainly have a family history of it!). It can be caused by stressors and life changes. It can result from abuse or PTSD. And maybe sometimes it just happens for no reason. (Fact: Nobody actually knows what really causes depression or why anti-depressants work for some people! The medical community is literally guessing, theorizing and researching as we speak.) BUT: depression can also be caused by an underlying medical condition, and sometimes if you treat that condition, the depression can clear up! (This is true of other mood and psychiatric disorders as well: I have a friend who suffers from bi-polar, and it turns out it might also be her thyroid. Also, recent studies have shown that many people with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia may actually be suffering from conditions like Lyme disease, and that treatment of the disease can clear up the disorder!)

So here are a list of illnesses, vitamin deficiencies, and medications that can cause depression:

Medical Conditions with Evidence of Causing Depression:

Cushing’s syndrome
Addison’s disease
Huntington’s disease
Wilson’s disease
Multiple sclerosis
Parkinson’s disease
Traumatic brain injury
Human immunodeficiency virus
West Nile virus
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Lyme disease
Hepatitis C
Paraneoplastic syndromes
Pancreatic cancer

Vitamin deficiencies that can lead to depression

Vitamin Symptom
B12 Megaloblastic anemia
Decreased appetite
Unexplained pancytopenia
Depressed mood
Folate Ataxia
Depressed mood
Impaired vibratory sensation
Hyper- or hyporeflexia
Macrocytic anemia

Medications that may be linked to depressive symptoms

Antiepileptic drugs
Primidone, tiagabine, vigabatrin, felbamate, levetiracetam, topiramate, and phenytoin may cause depression,1 and phenobarbital may cause depression associated with suicidal ideation2
Recent randomized studies indicate these drugs do not carry a higher risk of depression, contrary to earlier accepted wisdom
Depressive symptoms may occur after initial corticosteroid administration, with long-term use, or with drug discontinuation3
Interferon alfa
Depression rates of nearly 50% have been reported.4Depressive symptoms seem to be related to dose and duration of treatment and may take several weeks to develop
Interferon beta
Initial studies raised concern about an increased risk of depression and suicide, but a review of 16 studies did not detect an increased risk of depression5
Although initial studies did not show an association between isotretinoin and depression and suicide, 24 reports of depression and more than 170 cases of isotretinoin-associated suicide have been reported.6 In many patients, depressive symptoms resolved when the medication was discontinued, and several case studies reported depression recurrence with medication rechallenge
Varenicline and bupropion
Postmarketing cases have described neuropsychiatric symptoms including depression and suicidal ideation with these antismoking agents, prompting changes in the drugs’ prescribing information. Many of the cases reflect new-onset depressed mood, suicidal ideation, and changes in emotion and behavior within days to weeks of initiating treatment. Patients with pre-existing psychiatric illness may experience worsening of symptoms7

This information comes from a page on the Current Psychology website (specifically written for psychologists and psychiatric doctors, so a very credible source!). This article also contains brief information on the symptoms of the illnesses/conditions, and how to test for them. If you have depression, I strongly recommend you take a look at this article and see if any of these diseases sound like you, or if you are taking any of the listed medications. If any of them DO sound like, go to your family doctor (with a print-out of the relevant information from the website!) and ask him/her to talk to you about these conditions and hopefully test for them or for vitamin deficiencies. And if your doctor refuses to believe you or brushes off your fears: FIND A DOCTOR WHO WILL LISTEN. I’m not kidding. If your doctor isn’t doing his/her job, you need a doctor who will. Unfortunately, it is often up to the patient to do his/her own research and stand up for the tests and treatments that will actually help. Remember also that sometimes your doctor may not have read the latest research on how to test for conditions like hypothyroidism, so try to do as much hearty googling as possible so you know that things like a TSH test may not be sufficient to rule out a medication condition.

Bottom line: you don’t want to suffer for years with depression that is actually being caused by another, potentially dangerous, illness, when a few visits to a doctor, some research on your part, and some standing up for yourself could literally save your life.


One thought on “What Is Causing Your Depression?

  1. Pingback: My Miracle | Lyme, Literature, and Life

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