Depression, Anxiety May Take Toll on Health as Much as Smoking, Obesity
While there is a growing awareness in India about the importance of mental health in overall well-being, it is still not a mainstream medical consideration that gets evaluated by general practitioners as part of their general health checkups. Perhaps it should: depression and anxiety are specifically linked to higher rates of heart disease and other health problems. A new study, published in the journal Health Psychology, specifically tied anxiety and depression to a series of seemingly unrelated diseases, and concluded that anxiety and depression are risk factors as serious as smoking and obesity.
Andrea Niles, PhD, and senior author Aoife O’Donovan, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and the San Francisco VA Medical Center, looked at the health data of more than 15,000 older adults over a four-year period; most symptoms were self-reported, and depsression and anxiety symptoms were evaluated during interviews. Anxiety and depression were leading predictors of consditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches, back pain and stomach upset, on par with the effects of other, more known risk factors like smoking and obesity.
Participants with high levels of anxiety and depression were found to face 65 percent increased odds for a heart condition, 64 percent for stroke, 50 percent for high blood pressure and 87 for arthritis, compared to those without anxiety and depression.
Niles and O’Donovan discovered that symptoms such as headache, stomach upset, back pain and shortness of breath increased exponentially in association with high stress and depression. Odds for headache, for example, were 161 percent higher in this group, compared with no increase among the participants who were obese and smokers.
“Anxiety and depression symptoms are strongly linked to poor physical health, yet these conditions continue to receive limited attention in primary care settings, compared to smoking and obesity,” Niles said. “To our knowledge this is the first study that directly compared anxiety and depression to obesity and smoking as prospective risk factors for disease onset in long-term studies.”
Unlike the other conditions investigated, the authors found that high levels of depression and anxiety were not associated with cancer incidence. “Our findings are in line with a lot of other studies showing that psychological distress is not a strong predictor of many types of cancer,” O’Donovan said. “On top of highlighting that mental health matters for a whole host of medical illnesses, it is important that we promote these null findings. We need to stop attributing cancer diagnoses to histories of stress, depression and anxiety.”
The study is an important reminder that mental health is an integral part of overall health, and that failure to address mental health issues can have severe repercussions for physical well-being.