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Can depression cause headaches?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on April 19, 2023.

Official answer


Yes, headaches can be a symptom of depression, among many other symptoms such as feeling sad, tearful and loss of interest in everyday activities. An association with depression has also been identified in patients with migraine headaches. Severe headaches may also cause a person to feel depressed.

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, can make it difficult to engage in day-to-day activities with family, work and social life. Medical treatment is required as depression does not go away on its own, but treatment is very effective for most patients. In general, you may feel unhappy most of the time but do not know why.

Many patients may initially seek help for physical symptoms such as headaches, pain, stomach problems, or other symptoms. Once the depression is diagnosed and treated, the physical symptoms often improve.

Learn more: List of Medications for Depression

Prescription medications, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or a combination of two work well to help control symptoms of depression in adults, which may include:

  • sad or tearful feelings
  • a feeling of emptiness or despair
  • behavioral problems, like anger, irritability, anxiety, agitation, restlessness or easy frustration
  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities (hobbies, socializing, sex)
  • trouble with sleep, either not enough (insomnia) or too much
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • changes in appetite
  • slowed or trouble thinking, trouble remembering or concentrating, slow, speaking or slow body movements
  • feeling worthless, guilty and full of self-blame
  • trouble making decisions
  • frequent or recurring thoughts of death, suicide, suicidal attempts or suicide
  • unexplained physical problems like headache, backache or other pain

Children, adolescents and older patients exhibit symptoms of depression similar to adults, but there can be some differences.

  • younger children may exhibit clinginess to the parent, refusing to attend school, or weight loss.
  • teens may exhibit poor performance at school, feeling extremely sensitive, recreational drug or alcohol use, excessive sleep, or self-harm.

Depression is not a normal symptom of aging but is frequently undiagnosed. Symptoms especially prevalent may also include:

  • memory loss or difficulties
  • preference to stay home rather than socializing
  • suicidal thoughts, especially in older men.

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