Depression Raises Risk of Early Death

Research has shown that there is a link between people who have one or more major depressive episode and a significant risk of mortality.  Additionally, women are at greater risk.

In the US, depression is one of the most common mental disorders among adults.  In 2015, 6.1% of all American adults suffered at least one major depressive episode.  This is according to data provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Definition of Depression

The definition of a major depressive episode, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is when five or more symptoms are present for a period of two weeks.  These symptoms are: loss of pleasure in enjoyable activities, depressed mood, abnormal weight loss or weight gain, fatigue, lack of focus, sleeplessness or oversleeping, feelings of guilt, abnormal physical agitation or slowness, and recurring thoughts of death.

Depression has already been linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death.  This is especially true in women.

A recent study that was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reports that major depressive episodes are a significant factor in the risk of early death for both men and women.

The study was performed by researchers from American and Canadian institutions. It included the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (of the National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, MD, and the School of Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.

Study co-author, Dr. Stephen Gilman concluded,

“There is less stigma associated with depression, better treatments are available, but depression’s link to mortality still persists. At first, the association was limited to men, but in later years it was seen for women as well.”

Depression Linked to Elevated Mortality Risk

There were 3,410 adults from Atlantic Canada who joined the study in Stirling County.  The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of several mental illnesses.  The researchers were interested to find whether or not depression is associated with a heightened risk of mortality.  And, to try to detect if gender makes a difference.

This study took place over a period of 60 years and the data that was analyzed was drawn from subjects who participated during three specific time periods.From 1952 to 1967, there were1,003 participants.From 1968 to 1990, 1,203 participants, and from 1991 to 2011, there were 1,402 participants.  At the beginning of each time frame, the average age of the subjects was 49 years.

The findings were compared to the Canadian Mortality Database’s death records.Most notably, there was a strong link found between a diagnosis of depression and a significantly increased risk of mortality in men across all three periods. However, in women the connection between depression and risk of mortality was only observed from the 1990s onwards.

Furthermore, the researchers reported that the most severe mortality risk follows a depressive episode, but also that this risk could possibly be mitigated by an improvement in the mental health of the individual. The study authors wrote,

“Our results showthat a depressive episode confers an elevated risk of mortality that eventually decays over time unless there is a recurrent depressive episode, in which case the mortality risk associated with depression remains elevated.”

Risk of Mortality for Women Has Risen 50%

Additionally, there were some fluctuations in terms of how much the participants’ lifespan who had suffered with depression was shortened from generation to generation. Dr. Ian Colman commented,

“The lifespan for young adults with depression at age 25 was markedly shorter over the 60-year period, ranging from 10 to 12 fewer years of life in the first group, 4 to 7 years in the second group, and 7 to 18 fewer years of life in the 1992 group.”

It was the steep increase in the risk of death for women with depression in the latest time frame that researchers were most concerned about. As Dr. Colman says,

“Most disturbing is the 50 percent increase in the risk of death for women with depression between 1992 and 2011.”

The increase in their risk of mortality did not seem to be associated with other factors associated with depression, such as alcohol abuse, addictions, sedentarism, and for diet, in spite of the fact that these factors can cause a range of heart problems.

Dr. Colman suggests that the elevated risk of death in women with depression may be partially explained by their ever-increasing responsibilities.

“During the last 20 years of the study in which women’s risk of death increased significantly,” he says, “Roles have changed dramatically both at home and in the workplace, and many women shoulder multiple responsibilities and expectations.”

Study authors urge healthcare providers to be attentive to their patients’ mental health and to strictly monitor recurring depressive episodes in order to provide the necessary intervention.

One Hour of Exercise Can Dispel Depression

A recent study involving 34,000 people, reports that as little as 1 hour of exercise per week, regardless of intensity, can prevent depression.  The data suggests that even a little weekly exercise can help lower the risk of clinical depression.

Depression effects 6.7% of American adults annually. The cost is estimated at $210.5 billion in 2010 alone. Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) calculate that more than 300 million people worldwide live with the disorder.

Depression therapy involves medication, psychotherapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy.  However, there was a one-month campaign launched by the Black Dog Institute of Australia that encouraged people to exercise.  They believed that regular exercise can help treat depression.

Prof. Samuel Harvey, who conducted the study, collected and analyzed data from 33,908 Norwegian adults who were followed over a period of 11 years.

He explains, “We’ve known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventive potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression.”

“These findings,” he continues, “are exciting because they show that even relatively small amounts of exercise – from 1 hour per week – can deliver significant protection against depression.”

The study results were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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