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Depression Increases the Risk of Major Diseases and Illnesses

Depression Increases the Risk of Major Diseases and IllnessesIt’s fairly known that depression can occur after a heart attack and can increase the likelihood of a second heart attack. But did you know that the flip side is also true? That depression itself can increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease. A recent Johns Hopkins Health Alert reports:

Prospective studies show that people who had no CHD [coronary heart disease] but were depressed when the studies began were more likely to develop or die of heart disease. Depression also aggravates chronic illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, back problems, and asthma, leading to more work absences, disability, and doctor visits.

Now results from a large Norwegian study suggests that depression increases the risk of death from most other major diseases, including stroke, respiratory illnesses, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. It is also associated with accidental deaths.

Researchers gathered baseline information on physical and mental health for 61,349 Norwegian men and women, average age 48, and then noted the number of deaths and their causes during an average follow-up of nearly 4.5 years. Participants who had significant depression (2,866) had a higher risk of dying of most major causes of death, even after adjusting for age, medical conditions, and physical complaints at the study’s outset.

The researchers theorize that depression may increase the risk of death by directly affecting the cardiovascular and nervous systems. In addition, depression may lead to poor health habits, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and a sedentary lifestyle, and may affect people’s ability to follow treatment regimens. Results reported in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine (volume 69, page 323).

In a Psych Central article, “Stressful Health Effects,” Senior News Editor Rick Nauert discusses another study by psychologist Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser from the Ohio State University College of Medicine published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science regarding the toll of stress and negative emotions on the body.

First, stress and distress increase the production of proinflammatory cytokines, which has been implicated in the development of diseases such as Alzeheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and diabetes.

Depression also increases the risk of infections and can delay wound healing because negative emotions can damage the immune system. In fact, stressed individuals show a weaker immune response to vaccines, Nauert explains, which is why depression is actually a public health concern. Furthermore, stress and depression makes environmental toxins like pesticides and air pollutants harder to tolerate, which, in turn, increases a person’s risk for developing allergies, asthma, and viral infections.

A bunch of good news, right???

Actually the reports just further underscore the urgency with which we should address depression and stress. They need to be treated just as seriously as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses, and autoimmune conditions.

Unfortunately most mood disorders won’t go away if we simply ignore them and direct our attention to something else. They are legitimate health concerns that affect a variety of our organs and systems within the human body and can make our lives a living hell if we’re not paying attention.

Depression Increases the Risk of Major Diseases and Illnesses

Therese J. Borchard

Therese J. Borchard is a mental health writer and advocate. She is the founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. You can reach her at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Borchard, T. (2018). Depression Increases the Risk of Major Diseases and Illnesses. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 31 Jul 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.