Can Coffee Be Used to Treat Depression?

Coffee may not be a treatment alone for depression, but we can scientifically confirm it helps

IMAGE: Unsplash — Clay Banks

Though at one point low functioning, I have lived most of my life with varying diagnosed levels of high-functioning depression. Anxiety and depression each run rampant on both sides of my family and I also identify as Queer. Maybe lower-case adjective queer as well, but that’s irrelevant. LGBTQ+ people statistically experience mental health issues at alarmingly high levels.

I’m also a suicide attempt survivor as well as a recovering, but I feel “recovered alcoholic. Not to be morbid, because I’m absolutely in an above stable place, but it would be odd if I wasn’t experiencing depression. I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was a child, and I am okay and accepting of that.

As of late, I’ve been finding comfort in my routine morning and 3:00pm coffees. I have the awareness to not use coffee or any substance for that matter as an emotional and mental crutch, and I know I’m not using coffee in that manner. However, I do notice how coffee has improved my overall well-being. Is it possible that there’s actually more to it than the short-term benefits of caffeine?

What we know

In 2011, Harvard’s School of Public Health published a study titled “Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women.” The researchers found that the risk of developing depression in women who drank 2–4+ caffeinated cups of coffee per day was 20% less likely than women who drank decaf coffee, tea, soft drinks, consumed chocolate, and even those who drank little or no caffeinated coffee. A previous study on men found similar results.

I do want to note that I am unsure if the researchers of Harvard’s study are accurately differentiating between gender identity and sex assigned at birth, but I hope they are as they are scientists.

A study conducted by Qingdao University Medical College researchers in China, published in 2016 through the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry confirmed Harvard’s results linking coffee as a preventative measure for depression. The Qingdao meta-analysis, or complied results from fifteen prior studies on the matter, revealed that not only is your risk of developing depression less if you drink coffee, but each cup of coffee you drink per day reduces your risk by 8%.

Another study published by Cambridge University Press also found that the risk of depression was reduced in those that drank caffeinated coffee, but specifically coffee itself reduced the risk of depression. This is because the researchers could not find a single association or link between depression risk with caffeinated tea consumption, or even direct caffeine intake like supplements. This study focused on middle-aged men.

As with the Harvard study, I am unsure if there is an accurate differentiation between sex assigned at birth and gender identity (Nonbinary, intersex, male-bodied not always correlating to man, female-bodied not always correlating to woman, etc.)

Other variables

You’ll see with each of the linked studies that other specific health variables are considered with each of the subjects so to maintain the quality and accuracy of the results found. This including but not limited to the subjects' alcohol consumption, smoking habits, and BMI rating. These studies also emphasize that moderation when consuming coffee is key.

Just because your risk of depression goes down with every cup of coffee you drink doesn’t mean the caffeine won’t have a negative effect on you. I live with both anxiety and depression and they absolutely are intertwining. Coffee consumption for me has to be very balanced.

The symptoms of drinking too much coffee may actually overlap in some of the physical and mental symptoms of depression itself. Jitteriness, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, dehydration, painful headaches, and lack of focus to name a few. I personally can’t drink more than three cups a day, and even then two feels holistically better for me. No more, no less.

Just like any drug regardless of its social connotations, caffeine falls under that umbrella term. In this case, the particular effects of coffee caffeination need to be taken into account.

Though I’m sure you know this, coffee is not a cure for depression. No single substance alone can fully treat depression. I am a firm believer that everyone should see a therapist for a series of sessions at least once in their life. With your therapy and possible medication, practices like guided meditation and binaural beats also help me along my journey. Yin Yoga is my favorite type of yoga. I also do a nightly walk around my neighborhood and listen to music to clear my head before resting.

A tool is a tool, and it’s just that. Tools are normally an important component of mindfulness practices to ground and even magnify your wellness routine. If you’re unsure what wellness tools would best benefit you, physical or conceptual, reach out to a mental health professional.

And almost on queue, I wrap up this article right before my afternoon cup of coffee.

Democratic socialist Queer rights activist who is sexually liberated and respects their mental health. Email me: mthm100@gmail.com

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