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Being depressed increases a person’s chances of dying in the next few years, say scientists at the University of Bergen, Norway, and the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London.
What may surprise readers is that depression not only increases a person’s chances of dying within the next few years, but that it increases a person’s risk of dying as much as smoking does.
Depression is as Dangerous as Smoking
Dr. Robert Stewart and other scientists who conducted the study have discovered that depression is not only a risk factor for mortality, but that it is also as strong a risk factor for a near-future death as smoking is. Kings College London reported these results to the scientific community, via the EurekAlert service.
Research Shows Depression Increases Risk of Dying
The scientists at the University of Bergen and the Institute of Psychiatry compared a study which had included more than 60,000 people, and a comprehensive database of mortality (causes of death). Their conclusion: over the four years following that study, those who were depressed had the same risk of dying as those who were smokers.
Assuming a causal relationship (that being depressed causes death) may be unwise, because the reason for the connection is not yet clear. Both depression and mortality occurring together does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. A basic scientific and statistical tenet taught in classrooms around the world is that correlation (occurring together) does not equal causation (something causing something else).
Does Depression Cause Death?
Oftentimes, the cause of some measured result is unseen or yet to be discovered. What Dr. Stewart, leader of the research team at the Institute of Psychiatry, says serves as a caution against jumping to conclusions about the relationship between death and depression. “Unlike smoking, we don’t know how causal the association with depression is…” Dr. Stewart says that the research “…does suggest that more attention should be paid to this link because the association persisted after adjusting for many other factors.”
Does Better Mental Health Treatment Prevent Death in Depressed Patients?
Does proper treatment decrease the risk of death in depressed patients? Another study, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, indicates that it does. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine reported that older patients who suffer from depression had a better chance of being alive in five years if they received treatment from both a general practitioner and a depression care manager.
Patients’ chances of dying in that time were 45% lower than the chances of those who just saw a general practitioner for treatment. This seems to indicate that receiving the proper care dramatically improves the outlook for patients.
Depression Increases Risk of Death by Suicide, but How Else Can Depression Increase Chances of Dying?
Aside from the obvious risk of suicide, depression may be linked to increased chances of death through other means. Examples include:
- poor self-care
- risk-taking behavior
- increased number of accidents due to inattention
- increased automobile accidents due to sleep deprivation
More research is needed before experts can determine all of the risk factors or list all of the ways that depression might be connected to an increased risk of death. For now, being aware of the connection may lead patients to seek medical treatment, which the study suggests can increase patient odds.
Depression increases one’s chances of death, but proper treatment can decrease those chances dramatically. Anyone who is or may be depressed, as well as anyone who knows someone who is or may be depressed, should take action. Prompt and proper treatment for depression is important, and information is readily available.