How Thyroid Issues Can Impact Mental Health

Woman wearing green is frowning and holding her hands to her face due to thyroid issues
Woman struggling with her mental health due to thyroid issues.

(Tina Dawn/ VM-Med) — Your thyroid is one of the endocrine glands which make hormones to regulate physiological functions in your body. As small as the gland is, it has the power to affect you in multiple ways –including your mental health and your mood.  

Not only do thyroid conditions present physical symptoms that can occasionally be hard to manage and create additional challenges for patients, but people with thyroid disorders must often tackle emotional or mental health symptoms as well. Depending on whether a person is experiencing hyperthyroidism and has an overactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), thyroid-related eye disease, or thyroid cancer, they will almost certainly experience emotional and psychological issues that will impact their mental health.

These symptoms can be caused by several reasons, directly or indirectly connected to a thyroid disorder diagnosis. Rapid changes in thyroid hormone levels, changes in appearance if you’ve gained or lost weight or if you are experiencing thyroid-related eye disease or have developed a goiter from a thyroid-related autoimmune disease, may understandably affect your self esteem. Other reasons could be that while your treatment may help reduce anxiety, it can also be creating fatigue. As well, the stress of being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder can add to your anxiety and depression. These are all reasons that can affect your mental health.

Hyperthyroidism and mood changes

Hypothyroidism is a condition that develops when the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. This condition is also called overactive thyroid. Hyperthyroidism speeds up the body’s metabolism, which can cause many noticeable symptoms, such as weight loss, hand tremors, and rapid or irregular heartbeat. In some cases, hyperthyroidism can also leave you feeling sluggish and contribute to weight gain and mood changes. Graves disease can also produce an overactive thyroid.

Considering all these possible physical symptoms, it’s not surprising that hyperthyroidism, and any thyroid disease, can affect people’s mood, or be associated with depression, and anxiety in some cases. People with more severe thyroid disease and additional physical changes and symptoms, understandably run the risk of experiencing more severe mood changes.

A research review highlighted in Everyday Health found that “people with hypothyroidism are more than twice as likely as people without the condition to develop anxiety disorders and that 29.8 percent of all anxiety disorders are associated with autoimmune thyroid disease.”  

Hypothyroidism and depression

An underactive thyroid, a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones is called hypothyroidism. An example of the most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, which creates chronic inflammation as antibodies attack healthy thyroid cells. Hypothyroidism is usually accompanied by symptoms of depression. People diagnosed with hypothyroidism experience weight gain or weight loss, sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, bowel movement changes, and changes in menstrual cycles, memory problems, inability to think clearly, and extreme fatigue.

With all these possible symptoms associated with the disorder it’s not that odd that depression has been the major affective illness described in hypothyroid patients. It has long been recognized that there is a strong relationship between thyroid disorders, particularly hypothyroidism, and disturbance in mood. But while many patients dealing with thyroid disorders may experience challenges with their mental health, the opposite does not stand: patients experiencing mental health challenges do not automatically have thyroid disorders. It’s important to highlight that most patients suffering from a depressive disorder have normal thyroid function. However, thyroid hormones do affect many areas and functions of the body, including the brain.

Given that some hypothyroidism mental health symptoms often look like those of depression, hypothyroidism may sometimes be misdiagnosed as depression. Testing for thyroid hormone levels is a way to differentiate depression from other health conditions. Some estimates show as many as 60 percent of people with hypothyroidism also experience depression, according to Very Well Health. If your thyroid hormone levels come back as normal, your doctor can then focus on taking the appropriate steps to improve your mental health.

Thyroid disorders and postpartum depression

One thing that expectant mothers who also suffer from any thyroid disorders need to keep in mind is that it can make postpartum recovery after giving birth much worse for them.

Postpartum depression isn’t just the “baby blues” but a very severe and persistent emotional condition that some mothers experience during pregnancy and after childbirth, where they feel intense sadness and despair, and are sometimes unable to properly bond with their baby.

If new moms experience intense feelings of depression, their healthcare provider should make sure to monitor their thyroid function for any signs of a thyroid disorder leading to thyroid depression. Thyroid depression refers to a condition where depression is connected to thyroid dysfunction, particularly hypothyroidism or autoimmune thyroid conditions. According to recent scientific research, “thyroid disorders are the endocrine diseases that have been most researched to identify an association with postpartum depression.”

Hormonal changes during pregnancy are often the culprit, while many new mothers who experience thyroid depression may also be dealing with major thyroid shifts, a genetic predisposition for depression, and, of course, the everyday stress of becoming a new parent.

Practicing self-care for thyroid disorders

Since both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism affect a person’s mood swings, mental state and overall sense of well-being, it’s essential that a patient along with the help of their medical care provider do everything in their power to minimize the symptoms.

In addition, science proves that, aside from medication and close monitoring of symptoms, good dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle can do a lot to improve someone’s mental outlook and minimize their stress and anxiety levels. While not a cure, good dietary and lifestyle choices have demonstrated they can make a difference by complementing your treatment plan.

If you suspect you may have a thyroid imbalance it’s imperative that you speak to your doctor and treat both the source of the problem and the physical and mental-health symptoms that may manifest.

VM Med’s Thyroid Centre offers patients excellent and timely care. Our clinical team supports every aspect of a patients’ thyroid health throughout the course of their lives. We offer a welcoming environment and specialized counselling and treatments on a wide range of issues. Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan will be proposed either by your doctor, or the VM Med MTC doctor, based on the examination and your test results.

For more information, you can read our extensive archive of VM-Med blogs, including how to detect early signs of a thyroid disorder and why women are more prone to thyroid problems.  

Still have questions? Book a consultation with our experts.