depression and chronic disease

A new study published in the journal Health Psychology has examined the link between depression and chronic diseases in women.

A large portion of the working population today face an increased susceptibility to multiple chronic diseases due to hectic work schedules, lack of physical exercise, exposure to environmental pollutants, and unhealthy eating habits. The work demands are even higher for middle-aged women, many of whom are caregivers and handle additional domestic responsibilities. Such demanding work schedules, family obligations, financial pressures, and other stressful conditions are unsustainable over time and can increase the chance of developing depression. However, a direct link between depression and the progression of multiple chronic diseases has not been explored in detail. A team of researchers from The University of Queensland has conducted a large study to identify the links between depression and chronic diseases.

The study followed more than seven thousand middle-aged women aged between 45-50 for a period of 20 years (1996-2016). The researchers collected data at the beginning of the study – when women did not have any symptoms of depression nor any reported chronic disease. Following this, data on the state of the women’s chronic physical conditions and data on the presence of depressive symptoms was collected every three years for the entire duration of the study. At the conclusion of the study, a direct comparison of susceptibility to multiple chronic diseases was conducted between depressed women and non-depressed women.

More than 43 percent of women had developed depression at the end of this study. More importantly, greater than 60 percent of women within the depressed group were suffering from multiple chronic diseases. Overall, women with depression have almost a 2.4-fold higher risk of developing chronic diseases in comparison to women without depression. The researchers also examined the timelines for the development of chronic diseases following the onset of depressive symptoms. The study found that a woman’s risk of developing multiple chronic diseases increased by 1.8-fold after the development of depressive conditions in comparison to their propensity to develop such diseases when such symptoms didn’t exist.

The researchers suggest that inflammation – a phenomenon observed in both depression and chronic disease – could explain the link between depression and susceptibility to chronic diseases. The researchers suggest that studies like these could help in the development of health guidelines that can assist clinicians in treating patients based on their mental health status.

Written by Vinayak Khattar, Ph.D., M.B.A

References: Xu, Xiaolin, et al. “Depressive Symptoms and the Development and Progression of Physical Multimorbidity in a National Cohort of Australian Women.” Health Psychology, May 2019. Crossref, doi:10.1037/hea0000738.

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