August 1, 2012

Study Shows Mild Mental Health Issues Could Increase Risk Of Death

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new study shows that mild mental health issues could increase the risk of death. Even a condition as mild or feeling anxious, depressed or lonely could increase the risk of an early death, says to the new study.

According to the British study, more than 68,000 people who said they experienced these symptoms were found to be more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases, cancer or other injuries. According to their numbers, nearly a quarter of the general British population suffer from these kinds of minor symptoms. While other studies have been done to measure the link between anxiety, depression and early death, none have been able to accurately measure the risks associated with these links.

"Even with low levels of psychological distress -- certainly much lower levels than would attract a diagnosis of anxiety or depression -- these people had an increased risk of mortality from all causes," said Dr. Tom Russ, the studies lead author. Dr. Russ is a clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

“The greater the level of distress, the greater the risk."

To conduct this study, the team of researchers from University College London and the University of Edinburgh analyzed data from over 68,000 adults aged 35 and older who took part in an English health survey from 1994 to 2004.

Taking this data, Russ and team measured participants on 12 measures of psychological distress, such as lost confidence or lost sleep. After accounting for certain factors like drinking, smoking, physical activity and weight, the team found those who met 7 of the 12 criteria were twice as likely to die early than those who did not meet any of the criteria.

These results further prove recent suggestions that psychological issues can have significant physical consequences.

“We found that psychological distress was a risk factor for death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and external causes, the greater the distress, the higher the risk,” said Dr. Russ.

“However, even people with low distress scores were at an increased risk of death. Currently these people, a quarter of the adult population, are unlikely to come to the attention of mental health services due to these symptoms and may not be receiving treatment.”

Factors such as drinking, smoking, and weight might not have any affect on these mental health issues, says another doctor in the study.

“These associations also remained after taking into account other factors such as weight, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption and diabetes. Therefore this increased mortality is not simply the result of people with higher levels of psychological distress smoking or drinking more, or taking less exercise,” said the studies lead author Dr. David Batty.

So far, this study is the largest conducted to determine psychological effects and mortality, and could potentially have important implications for further studies, say the authors.

“The fact that an increased risk of mortality was evident, even at low levels of psychological distress, should prompt research into whether treatment of these very common, minor symptoms can modify this increased risk of death,” said Dr. Russ. "At the moment, there's no clear evidence that treating these symptoms can reduce the risk we found," he said.

"But that's a study that must be done."