Depression Can Literally Kill Men

Depression – a wound that never shows on the body but hurts more than anything that bleeds. Though it affects brain the most, it can have dire repercussions on your heart as well, especially if you are a man. A new study has found that depression can give men a heart disease and result in premature death.

Depression is a common mental disorder that affects more than 264 million people globally. It spares no one, whether they are children or adults, men or women, although the incidence is a little higher in the latter.

Depression deeply affects your physical and mental wellbeing by seeping energy out of you. You feel immensely and uncontrollably sad and lose interest in activities that once appealed you. If not addressed and treated timely, depression can kill you. There is enough evidence to suggest that depression increases suicide tendency. However, it can kill you in more than one way. The new study highlights vulnerability of young men to depression and related risks. It says that young men aged 30 or more, who have major depressive disorder (MDD), can die a sudden natural death due to cardiac arrest.

The study, conducted at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, followed over seven million Chinese men and women over a period of 12 years (2004-2016). The study included patients from all walks of life distributed over a large rural and urban area. Subjects were prospectively analyzed through two study cohorts [Dongfeng-Tongji (DFTJ) and China Kadoorie Biobank (CKB)] and were evaluated for depression using questionnaire and interviews.

In the CKB cohort consisting of over a half million adults aged 30-79 years, more than 44,000 deaths were reported of which cardiovascular disease (CVD) claimed over 18,000 lives per year. Most of the patients who died had MDD. On the other hand, in the DFTJ cohort comprising population between 32-104 years, depression accounted for over 1,000 lives. In both cohorts, men showed a higher incidence of deaths due to CVD.

The findings, which were consistent in both cohorts, revealed that majority of the male patients had more than three of seven symptoms of depression for over two weeks. These included feelings of sadness, loss of interest in daily activities, loss of appetite, weight loss/gain, fatigue, lack of concentration, feelings of worthlessness and suicidal ideation.

The lead researcher, Dr. An Pan, Professor of Public Health at Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, believes depression has direct effect on heart in men and its causes need to be investigated thoroughly.

He added, “We found that depression was associated with a significantly elevated risk of all-cause and CVD mortality, and the associations were independent of sociodemographic factors, lifestyle factors, and health status. Furthermore, we found that the associations were only significant in men. To our knowledge, this is the first and largest study in mainland China to evaluate the associations of depression with all-cause and CVD mortality.”

Does Depression Hit Men Differently?

While it is an established fact that depression is common among patients with cardiac complications but to think that depression itself can induce heart disease is something new that needs to be investigated.

The study highlights a clear connection between depression and CVD mortality among males, leading some to question whether depression has a different pathophysiological route in both genders.

A plausible answer to the question can be that depression affects the entire body, not just the brain. Men and women differ in biochemistry and endocrinology. What we know is that depression interferes with body chemistry in a way that disrupts hormonal balance. The stress hormone level (cortisol) increases and results in a low-graded inflammation which, in turn, can clog arteries and veins.

But the same can happen to women as well. Does it mean depression tweaks and affects male hormones differently? The study in question has raised an important question. Further investigation needs to be conducted, particularly in Europe and USA, to establish a clear connection between depression and its gender-based morbidity and mortality.

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