Depression and Lyme Disease: It’s Not All in Your Head

lyme disease bacteria causing depression like symptoms


It is estimated that from 240,000 to 440,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of a tick that is infected with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, and is generally treated with a short course of antibiotics. However, as Lyme disease becomes more of an epidemic in parts of the US, it is becoming clear that many people who have been diagnosed with Lyme disease are not being cured by the antibiotics treatment. Many people who have been given a diagnosis of Lyme disease are repeatedly returning to their doctors with complaints of persistent symptoms. It is estimated that upwards of 40% of patients with short treatment courses of antibiotics relapse and end up with long term health problems.


Lyme disease is generally associated with flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal distress, swelling of the joints and muscle pain. Due to these symptoms, many Lyme sufferers are misdiagnosed with other illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, if Lyme disease is missed or misdiagnosed, it can progress and begin to attack the nervous system. When this happens, along with the most commonly discussed symptoms such as arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, Lyme disease sufferers can experience a host of symptoms that resemble and even mimic depression.


  • Vague headaches
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Memory issues
  • Extreme oversleeping
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Difficulty staying active
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mood Swings
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Sudden rage
  • Obsessive behavior
  • Sleep problems
  • Inability to concentrate


Recently a European study has shown that psychiatric inpatients were nearly twice as likely to have Lyme disease as the regular population. It is easy to conclude that many people who have been diagnosed with severe mental disorder in need of hospitalization have simply been misdiagnosed. However, with less than 50% of patients remembering a tick bite or rash, as well as the wide variety of symptoms that Lyme disease can create, it is easy to understand why doctors can misdiagnose Lyme disease. In addition, the most common test used to detect Lyme disease misses 35% to 50% of cases. There are also over 100 strains of borrelia bacteria in the US with over 300 worldwide. So what can you do to make sure your psychological symptoms are due to mental disorder or Lyme disease?

Lyme specialists explain that Lyme disease is a multisystemic illness, meaning that it attacks and effects many bodily systems. Doctors suggest that if you have a cluster of presenting symptoms such as joint pain and numbness or tingling in the joints, you may wish to have your doctor take another look at your diagnosis. Although the non-depressive symptoms can overlap other diseases, there are certain symptoms that are considered “classic” symptoms that point to Lyme disease. Unlike most depressive disorders, Lyme disease symptoms tend to come and go, with patients experiencing “good days” and “bad days.” The joint and muscle pain, which is a classic symptom of Lyme, tend to migrate throughout the body, affecting one part of the body one day and another the next. In addition, women often experience a worsening of symptoms around their menstrual cycle.


Lyme disease can mimic many psychiatric and cognitive issues, and can worsen already existing psychiatric problems. So what advice do doctors have for you if you are wondering whether or not your depressive symptoms are actually chronic Lyme symptoms? First, you shouldn’t hesitate to return to your doctor as many times as it takes to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Ask your doctor for the most comprehensive Lyme disease panel of tests. Don’t give up; you know your body the best and are your own best advocate for your health.