Many studies published in the last ten years suggest that, yes, depression is a significant factor in shortening the life span and expectancy of individuals in a variety of different situations. Depression itself is not a cause of death, but the behaviors in which depressed individuals often participate significantly increase the risk for chronic and deadly diseases such as coronary heart disease, lung disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.
How does Depression Impact the Quality of One’s Life?
If you have experienced depression, or watched a loved one experience depression, you know that it can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Depression makes us less connected to the things that keep life interesting. We lose interest in spending as much time with friends and family, and often the time we do spend with them is less interactive. We get tired more easily and are less interested in the things we often enjoyed – hobbies, commitments, or even a beloved career. Our minds get fuzzy and result in a lack of focus or motivation both on the job and at home. We talk less, we laugh less, and we smile less.
Can Changing Habits Improve Quality of Life with Depression?
Healthy eating, regular exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and engaging in positive social interaction are usually on the list of things recommended to combat depression and improve our mental health. These behaviors improve the lifespan and quality of life in depressed and non-depressed individuals alike.
But stress eating, quitting or reducing our regular exercise, difficulty maintaining regular sleep patterns, and choosing more time alone are typical reactions to depression. As such, while adopting healthier habits would objectively improve one’s quality of life, in practice – individuals with depression will struggle to do so.
Does Depression Shorten One’s Life Span?
In 2012, the US Department of Veterans Affairs published an article entitled “Study Confirms that Depression Can Shorten Life.” The article begins with the following statement:
“It’s long been believed people with major depression and some other serious mental illnesses tend to live shorter lives than others—and die more quickly than expected when they develop illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
However, the studies that contributed to this understanding were of patients who were under psychiatric care for their mental illness, not of all patients with depression.
A VA study, published in the Aug. 1, 2012, issue of the journal Psychiatric Services, provides new information on the toll depression takes on all patients with the illness, not only those receiving psychiatric care.
Researchers found VA patients with depression died, on average, five years earlier than VA patients without that diagnosis. In addition, compared to other Veterans, people with depression lost more years of productive life they might otherwise have been expected to live.
Another Canadian study published in 2017, followed thousands of adults between the years 1952 and 2011 examining bouts of depression, lifestyle choices made by the participants, and mortality. The six-decade Canadian study looked at how depression affects lives over a long period of time, taking into account popular lifestyle trends and separating the data for men and women. The researchers also wanted to separate out the data about suicide and unintentional injuries, which have both been demonstrated to occur more often in depressed individuals. The researchers focused on the data related to chronic conditions associated with depression.
They found that as many as one-third of individuals experiencing depression early in life developed a chronic form of depression disorder later in life. Also, depression was associated with an increased risk of a shortened lifespan/premature death in every decade of the study for men, and beginning in the 1990s for women. This increased risk was found to last as long as 20 years after a depressive episode, but, if the depression didn’t come back, the risk factors were significantly reduced.
If depression can shorten your life, can treating depression lengthen it?
It is safe to expect increased life expectancy in individuals who are getting treatment for their depression. An article published by Reuters about the six-decade Canadian depression study says:
“The connection between depression and a shorter lifespan appeared strongest in the years following a depressive episode, leading the researchers to conclude that at least part of the risk might be reversed by effectively treating the mental illness.”
Other studies focusing on individuals with both depression and a physical illness who receive treatment are encouraging. One such research project that looked at older adults suffering from both depression and arthritis concluded that effective treatment of the depression resulted in less arthritis pain and more functionality of the affected joints.
Despite what depression may be telling you, there are many ways to fight and beat depression. And you aren’t in the battle alone. Dr. Griffith and the team at our TMS Treatment Center would like to work with you to beat your depression. Eighty-five percent of our patients improve significantly with treatment, and most of them walk out depression-free. For you, that means more time with family and friends, more time doing the hobbies you used to love, more focus and motivation at work, and more smiles and laughs.