Can you die from depression? Researchers from University College London, University of Edinburg, and University of Sydney have recently found that depression speeds up risk of death in cancer survivors. In simple words, cancer may or may not kill you but distress, anxiety and depression definitely will.
Scientific evidence has often linked psychological distress with heart disease but this study, for the first time, has shown a direct connection between the increased chancers of death from cancer if it is accompanied by depression.
In a retrospective study, the researchers analyzed 16 studies that started and ended between 1994 and 2008. It included 163,363 cancer survivors which included men and women aged 16 and above. All of the subjects were cancer-free at the start of the study.
Researchers measured different factors that could have influenced the results, such as age, sex, socioeconomic status, BMI, smoking, and, most importantly mental wellbeing through a questionnaire that contained self-reported scores of depression. All participants were monitored for 9.5 years, during which 4,353 participants expired.
When the data was quantified, it was discovered that death rates were higher in patients who were distressed. These patients suffered from cancers of esophagus, pancreas, bowel, prostate, and blood.
Dr. David Batty, epidemiologist and senior lecturer at University College London as well as the lead author of the study said,“Our findings contribute to the evidence that poor mental health might have some predictive capacity for certain physical diseases but we are a long way off from knowing if these relationships are truly causal.”
Researchers also concluded that psychological stresses have some predictive value for a number of diseases.
The study appeared in BMJ on January 26, 2017.
Can You Die From Depression? What Does This Study Add To Existing Scientific Evidence?
The effect of mental health on physical wellbeing has been a subject of psychiatric studies for decades. Recent years, however, have seen quintessential research effort put into establishing a link between psychological factors and the resulting cardiovascular stress.
Only in the last few years, though, there has been an increasing interest in determining the role of cognitive stress on various stages of disease process. A growing body of evidence now indicates that psychological illnesses, such as stress, anxiety and depression, can not only worsen the disease prognosis but can also accelerate the rate of death in survivors.
The study is a step in the direction towards establishing a link between depression and death in cancer patients. However, it is a small study and is subject to many limitations. The researchers themselves believe further research needs to be done before a connection can be shown clearly.
“The findings are observational, so no firm conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn.” Said Dr. Batty.
Nonetheless the findings add to the growing body of evidence that anxiety and depression have some predictive capacity for some physical conditions, including cancer.
Can Depression Really Up Your Risk Of Death From Cancer?
Cancer is among the leading causes of death around the world. In 2016, approximately 1,685,210 new cases of cancer emerged in the United States, of which 595,690 people succumbed to death. Among all types, breast and lung cancers are the most common.
Cancer affects both men and women but mortality rate is higher in men. Every year, 208 men and 145 women per 100,000 people die due to cancer.
Depression is extremely common in cancer and reduces the quality of life in the patients. Depression can be mild, moderate or severe but it can hamper daily activities and mental wellbeing. Sometimes depression can be so severe, it can prompt suicidal thoughts among the survivors.
Of late, connection between depression and cancer prognosis is also being explored. However, studies on the subject have either been limited or do not provide clear answers.
Earlier studies have provided mixed resultswith some saying that depression did not influence risk of cancer progression and others stating blatantly that depression can up the risk of death due to cancer by 25 percent and 31 percent respectively. Further research is needed to establish a clear connection but the current study is a step in the right direction.