When someone enters treatment for an eating disorder, it is important they receive a comprehensive assessment to determine any underlying or co-occurring problems that may have contributed to the development of the eating disorder. In some cases, depression may occur alongside an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia. In fact, depression and eating disorders often overlap.
Depression is a common mental health disorder, with an estimated 8.4 percent of U.S. adults experiencing an episode of depression within the previous year, as of 2020, according to one study. (1) Eating disorders are less common, with recent reports indicating 1.2 percent of adults have binge eating disorder within a given year, and 0.3 percent have bulimia. Furthermore, 0.6 percent of adults will experience anorexia at some point during their lives. (2)
While eating disorders may not be as prevalent as depression, it is common for individuals with eating disorders to have other psychiatric diagnoses. In fact, a study of over 2,000 women receiving treatment for an eating disorder found 94 percent of them had a co-occurring mood disorder, with depression being the most common co-occurring diagnosis. (3) Eating disorders are relatively rare in the population as a whole, but many individuals with these conditions also live with depression.
Research shows depression is extremely common among individuals who live with an eating disorder. There are several explanations for this overlap. For instance, genetic risk factors can make a person vulnerable to both depression and eating disorders. Furthermore, depression may increase a person’s risk of later developing an eating disorder, which can explain the interaction between these two conditions. (4)
In addition, there are some overlapping psychological and social factors that can contribute to both eating disorders and depression: (4)
While there is no single cause of co-occurring depression and eating disorders, there are risk factors that can contribute to the development of both conditions.
There is an interaction between depression and eating disorders on the whole, but depression rates can vary among individual eating disorder diagnoses. Below is the breakdown of how depression can overlap with the three most common eating disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
National data shows significant overlap between depression and anorexia nervosa (AN). Within their lifetimes, 42.1 percent of people with anorexia will experience a mood disorder, which is the category that encompasses depression. (2)
Depression may be even more common among individuals with bulimia nervosa (BN), as 70.7 percent of those with this eating disorder will be diagnosed with a mood disorder at some point during their lives. (2)
Treatment for eating disorders and depression can vary based upon each individual’s unique needs and eating disorder diagnosis. Most important is receiving a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both the eating disorder and the depression. If depression is left untreated, eating disorder symptoms may return, and vice versa.
Treatment begins with a thorough assessment, in which a team of professionals evaluates eating disorder symptoms, as well as physical and mental health and functioning in various areas of life, such as in relationships and at work or school. The treatment plan will then address any areas of need.
Oftentimes, individuals will work with a dietician throughout the recovery process to ensure they receive adequate nutrition. A doctor may be part of the treatment team to address any underlying medical conditions that have arisen as a result of the eating disorder. Finally, a therapist will address the underlying issues that led to depression and an eating disorder.
A specific type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat depression, and the research shows that it can also be effective for treating eating disorders. (5) In cognitive behavioral therapy, patients can learn to overcome negative thoughts about themselves and replace them with more balanced ways of thinking, which can alleviate both depression symptoms and distorted thoughts about food and body image.
There are other types of psychotherapy that have also been found to be effective. They include:
In addition, there are many other therapies, practices, and activities that can be helpful as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for eating disorders, such as:
Ultimately, the best course of treatment for depression and eating disorders depends upon each individual’s needs. Contact our team at Within to begin the treatment process.