A 60-year study that ended in 2011 found that men and women with depression lived an average of seven to 18 years less that people who did not have depression. When the study started, it appeared that only men with depression had shorter life spans. In the third and final part of the study, however, from 1991 to 2011, there was a 50 percent increase in the risk of mortality for depressed women.
The reason for this higher death rate is not exactly clear. Depressed people tend to have higher incidences of poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption. But when researchers compared people with these problems with non-depressed people with similar problems, there were no significant differences in death rates.
Another factor to consider is suicide. Twenty percent of the depressed people who died during the study took their own lives in contrast to only one percent of the non-depressed people. This accounts for some of the disparity in the death rates. But it doesn’t account for all of it or even the majority of it.
Yet another factor is that depression releases hormones that weaken the immune system. This leaves the body vulnerable to various types of infections and cancers. While this idea sounds logical, the rate of deaths from cancer was the same between depressed and non-depressed people.
Finally, the researchers decided that the most likely culprit is heart disease. People with heart disease and depression are twice as likely to die as people who have heart disease and do not experience depression. It isn’t clear in these cases whether the depression started before the heart disease or whether it was a result of the heart disease.
Scientists also believe that depressed people have a harder time recovering from a heart attack because they are less likely to follow a medication regimen and less likely to make healthy lifestyle changes. They also tend to lack hope, which can be an important element in combating any illness.
The greatest risk of death occurs during or immediately following a depressive episode. The good news is that if the depression resolves and the person’s mental health improves, the mortality rate drops back down to normal. There is currently no reliable research on death rates in people with recurrent depression.
In any given year in the United States, approximately 6.7 percent of the population experience depression, according to Medical News Today. Fortunately, depression is usually treatable with medication and psychotherapy. In severe cases, there are more intensive treatments, such as ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy.
If you are depressed, speak to your doctor about it as soon as possible. Ask for a referral to a psychiatrist and a counselor or therapist. Asking for help may not be easy. Depression and other mental health conditions still carry a stigma, even though we now know that they are as biologically based as any physical illness.
Remember, if you do get help for your depression, you could be adding years to your life. I’m sure there are a lot of people who love you and want you around a lot longer.