DEPRESSION
December 18, 2009

Depression and Longevity

Those who are depressed have a shorter life-span. Is this because doctors tend not to investigate their symptoms?

A study by Norwegian and British researchers has found that being depressed may take as many years off your life as smoking cigarettes does.

The research combined analysis of a survey of more than 60,000 people with a search of death records. During the four years after the survey was conducted, the increase in the death rate of subjects who appeared to be depressed, according to their survey response, was nearly the same as that seen in subjects who smoked.

In other words, a little anxiety was good for them. This suggests that people with depression may not be inclined to seek help, while a dose of anxiety may cause them to do so.

Cigarette smoking has been conclusively shown to shorten life span. This study does not prove that depression does the same. The fact that it suggests it should be an eye opener to many.

The study also found that the death rate dropped in depressed people who also suffered from anxiety. In other words, a little anxiety was good for them. This suggests that people with depression may not be inclined to seek help, while a dose of anxiety may cause them to do so.

Dr. Robert Stewart, who led the team at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, comments: "It would certainly not surprise me at all to find that doctors are less likely to investigate physical symptoms in people with depression because they think that depression is the explanation, but may be more likely to investigate if someone is anxious because they think it will reassure them. These are conjectures but they would fit with the data."

Many people think that depression, as the term is used medically, essentially means unhappiness. As the study points out, it's far more serious than that. Dr. Stewart feels that too many health care personnel similarly underestimate the seriousness of depression and other psychological disorders. He concludes: "The physical health of people with current or previous mental disorders needs a lot more attention than it gets at the moment."

Dr. Stewart's specific recommendations to address the problem include not only more active treatment of mental disorders, but also more screening for unhealthy risk factors, such as high cholesterol and lack of exercise, in all people with mental disorders, not only those with depression.

The results of the study were published in the August 2009 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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