Depression can shave years off your life.
And women are even more at risk of dying early from the effects of depression than they were decades ago.
That’s according to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The researchers said depression can shorten both men and women’s lifespan by 10 years or more.
Women, however, began notching higher levels of mortality from depression only in the 1990s.
For either sex, depression is connected to other serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease that can be silent and deadly.
“Women caught up with men,” Stephen Gilman, a senior study author as well as an investigator and acting chief of the health behavior branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told Healthline.
Ironically, the researchers said, the fruits of equality, such as women’s changing social roles and higher employment, could be playing a part.
Studies linking depression and early death aren’t new. But this study looked at a much longer 60-year time span from 1950 to 2011, said Gilman.
“People who reported symptoms of depression at multiple time points had the highest risk,” he added. “That was an interesting finding.”
And that’s not all.
Depression can also have a nasty spiral affect, leading to shattered relationships, lost work time, and increased smoking and drinking.
Depression hits the heart
Depression is a widespread but underdiagnosed condition.
In 2015, almost 7 percent of all adults in the United States — about 16 million people —were living with depression.
Yet, it’s still stigmatized, said Gilman, and a substantial number of people don’t get treated.
Someone usually gets the diagnosis after being sad and hopeless each day for more than two weeks, Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist in New York City and author of “The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius,” told Healthline.
The trouble is that depression stresses the body, releasing high levels of cortisol and changing blood pressure. This increases heart attack risk.
In fact, death rates for depressed heart patients are double that for non-depressed ones, according to another study published in ScienceDaily.
Depression is a significant predictor of mortality no matter how long after a coronary disease diagnosis, said Heidi May, PhD, cardiovascular epidemiologist at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah and the study’s lead author.
“It’s actually a stronger predictor than age,” she told Healthline.
Females are depressed more than males, she added.
“But they both have the same risk of mortality if they’re depressed,” she explained.
When depression is treated, mortality risk also falls.
Difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and changes in activity are some other everyday signals.
“With depression, you lose the ability to take pleasure in anything you once did,” said Saltz. “It’s also the number one source of disability in the U.S.”
Despite lots of research, though, there are still many unknowns about depression.
For example, there’s a genetic component, but the gene hasn’t been found.
“Depression may turn out to be many different things,” said Saltz.
Lacking a biological test, people must self-report.
Treatment is effective
Although many people aren’t getting help, treatments can be effective, many experts say.
Breaking the depression spiral as soon as possible is important, said Dr. Murray Grossan, a physician in Los Angeles and author of “Stressed? Anxiety? Your Cure is in the Mirror.”
Depression lowers the body’s immunity, making it easier to catch colds or the flu, he told Healthline.
Grossan’s antidote is learning humor, such as making jokes or watching good comedy entertainment, or doing things that lift the spirit such as listening to music.
“Visualizing bad things happening can activate some parts of the brain,” he explained. “And it can change your chemistry. So, the sooner you go after depression, the better.”
“General practitioners may not be able to detect major depression from bipolar, however,” she added, “which may create a bigger problem.”
May agreed that people should be screened for depression.
“It is a risk factor,” she said, “and like anything else needs to be treated. Stay on top of those symptoms.”