Publisher's Suicide Draws Attention to Heart Disease, Depression Link
> 6/22/2006 10:07:50 AM

The discovery this week of the body of noted publisher and diplomat Philip Merrill has once again drawn attention to the link between depression and heart disease. After his disappearance many details were uncertain, but it now appears that Merrill took his own life while sailing on his boat in the Severn River near Annapolis. Merrill had been struggling with a heart condition for over a year, and eventually succumbed to the depression that had clouded his life in recent months.

As this Washington Post story explains, the link between cardiovascular disorders and major depression and depressive symptoms has been one of intense interest for some time. There is evidence that the relationship works in both directions: that is, heart disease increases one's risk of depression, and depression or depressive symptoms increase one's risk of cardiovascular disorders. Many avenues have been studied, as the WaPo elaborates:

The exact links among heart disease, bypass surgery and mood are unknown. One of the few certainties is that depression after surgery is more common in people who had previous episodes of the disorder.

Some experts believe that alterations to the normal circulation and blood pressure during bypass surgery, or small clots that form during the operation, may damage the brain, at least temporarily.

A more likely explanation is that the onset of heart symptoms -- whether or not surgery is involved -- is often a patient's first serious brush with death.

For many, it requires redefining oneself, marks the start of lifelong medicine-taking and makes ordinary activity seem dangerous, at least for a while.

As Dr. Lily Hung wrote in an extensive post earlier here at Anxiety, Addiction and Depression Treatments:

Depression can strike anyone. However, research over the past two decades has shown that people with heart disease are more likely to suffer from depression than otherwise healthy people, and conversely, that people with depression are at greater risk for developing heart disease.1 Furthermore, people with heart disease who are depressed have an increased risk of death after a heart attack compared to those who are not depressed.2 Depression may make it harder to take the medications needed and to carry out the treatment for heart disease. Treatment for depression helps people manage both diseases, thus enhancing survival and quality of life.

The tragic suicide of Philip Merrill has taken many by surprise as he is a man who touched many lives. At the age of 72, he had led a full life and had left an impressive mark by giving back to his country as well as his community. If any good can come of his death, we can only hope that it is an increased awareness of the dangers of depression and especially its link to heart disease. Many believe that effective depression treatment can help to not only ease the pain of those suffering with the disease, but also help to relieve some of the symptoms of the heart disease to which it is tied.

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