Depression As Dangerous As Smoking?
> 12/4/2009 12:39:55 PM

Chronic depression can become a very physical disorder - it often disrupts sleep patterns, discourages active lifestyles, and weakens the immune system, leaving the body more vulnerable to disease and infection. But its ill effects are apparently even more severe than previous studies revealed: it may pose just as great a risk to one's health as a lifetime of smoking. 
Working with a huge data pool drawn from 60,000 subjects who were surveyed over a four-year period, researchers in Norway and London found that major depression increased mortality rates just as much as smoking. Statistics can't quite explain the relationship between the two variables, but the length and breadth of the study nearly eliminated the possibility that the observed trend was coincidental. While the study's authors cannot definitively state exactly how the numbers turned out the way they did, they theorized in subsequent interviews that this elevated mortality risk stemmed from both increased physical vulnerability and a tendency for severely depressed subjects to eschew doctor's visits and ignore legitimate health concerns when under the disorder's influence.  
Not only are depressed individuals less likely to seek help for physical health problems, they also engage in more self-destructive behaviors: one independent but extremely relevant study noted that subjects with mental health issues smoke more than any other demographic; nearly 60% of bipolar subjects smoke cigarettes, and the number jumps to 90% among schizophrenics.
Interestingly, mortality rates were lower for subjects who suffered from both depression and anxiety. Perhaps the two conditions moderate each other to some degree - researchers believe that this trend reflects the fact that severely depressed individuals often refuse to seek help for both mental healt issues and independent medical concerns, while high-anxiety individuals are more likely to suffer from hypochondria or obsess about physical ailments.
According to the study's authors, doctors often treat only the most prominent condition - and they may well attribute minor physical pains to underlying depression.
The larger revalations to be drawn from this study are simple: depressed individuals should not dismiss other health problems, no matter how crippling their conditions. And no one should assume that physical issues are inextricably linked to mental illness. In fact, doctors would do well to perform independent screenings on all depressive subjects. Those who suffer from severe depression should be treated accordingly, but after their mental health concerns have been addressed, they must focus on maintaining their physical health as well. The two variables clearly influence each other in profound ways.

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