What are Somatic Symptoms of Depression?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Is a mental disorder, like depression, tied to physical problems like pain? You're about to find out in this lesson on the definition and examples of somatic symptoms of depression.

Physical Symptoms From Mental States

Have you ever gotten so stressed that you had stomach pain? Did you ever feel so sad that you became nauseated? Were you ever so scared that you felt that your heart was about to jump out of your chest?

There's a connection between all of these questions: they all have a physical symptom that stems from a psychological issue. And that's what this lesson is about, but with respect to depression.

What Are Somatic Symptoms?

Somatic symptoms are symptoms that relate to the physical body. In other words, they are NOT symptoms of the mind. They are physical sensations. 'Somatic' is a word that refers to the body and a 'symptom' is a subjective experience. This is different from a 'sign', which is an objective thing.

Take, for example, a red and tender joint. The joint is objectively red. It's a sign everyone can objectively measure or assess. But the pain (the symptom) is only something you can experience and put into context, and is therefore subjective.

Somatic Symptoms of Depression

The term 'somatic symptom' is used loosely with respect to depression. Even researchers don't agree on exactly how to term these symptoms in general and exactly which specific symptoms should be included. Alternative terms that have been used in literature to refer to somatic symptoms or various groups of somatic symptoms include:

  • Psychosomatic
  • Somatoform
  • Somatized
  • Somatization
  • Vegetative
  • Masked

With respect to depression, somatic symptoms can be defined as bodily sensations that are either unpleasant or worrisome. These symptoms may affect one specific part of the body or they can affect the entire body.

Some potentially painful examples are headaches, backaches, general muscle pain and digestive pain like stomach pain.

Others might not be painful but are still unpleasant, like dizziness, dyspnea (or shortness of breath), and palpitations.

Some may affect the entire body, like fatigue or general weakness. Others involve changes in a person's appetite or even libido.

More Information

If you think that depression is solely or mainly a mental disorder with few to no somatic symptoms, you'd be wrong. In fact, almost 70% of people with depression go to the doctor because of their somatic symptoms, complaining of general aches and pain that are at least mildly severe.

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