Mind-Body Connection: Depression Increases Mortality Risk In Women With Breast Cancer

When many of us think of death caused by depression, we only think of suicide. While 2-9% of people with depression do become victims of suicide and intensive suicide-prevention initiatives are paramount to decreasing mortality rates amongst depressed people, depression-related fatalities may primarily be the result of more subtle interactions between mental and physical health. Researchers are increasingly finding that depression drastically increases mortality rates amongst people with physical illnesses, suggesting that depression can be lethal in more (and more complex) ways than previously realized. It can be a quiet and insidious process in which psychological vulnerability decreases physical resilience. These findings highlight the urgent need for diagnosis and depression treatment in people suffering from physical ailments, to reduce psychological and somatic vulnerability.

Breast Cancer, Depression, and Mortality

A new study released earlier this week indicates that women who become depressed following a breast cancer diagnosis have a significantly higher mortality rate. Researchers from the Division of Health and Social Care Research and Cancer Studies at King’s College London analyzed the hospital records of 77,173 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2009 in South East England. After controlling for factors such as age, socioeconomic status, and cancer stage, women who experienced depression following cancer diagnosis had a 45% higher risk of death than women who did not experience depression. Women with pre-existing depression also had a higher mortality rate, but the association was not as remarkable as that observed when depression emerged after cancer. The study examined death from all causes, indicating that depression could impact cancer progression while also presenting its own discrete mortality risks. For example, depression may lead to decreased treatment adherence, difficulties maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and chronic stress, which is linked to a range of serious health problems due to biochemical and behavioral factors.

The Wide Net of Depression

The link between depression and mortality in breast cancer patients adds to a growing body of research indicating that depression heightens the risk of death in people with a variety of physical ailments. This past spring, a study presented at the annual meeting of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology showed that people with heart failure who also experienced moderate to severe depression were five times more likely to die within a year of initial heart failure hospitalization. Previous research has also found significantly increased mortality rates amongst depressed people with diabetes, COPD, and those who have received organ transplants. Dr. John Cleland, professor of cardiology at Imperial College London, said:

Depression is often related to loss of motivation, loss of interest in everyday activities, lower quality of life, loss of confidence, sleep disturbances, and change in appetite with corresponding weight change. This could explain the association we found between depression and mortality.

In other words, the wide neurochemical and behavioral reach of depression can create conditions in which physical healing is hindered, increasing your risk for negative effects from both your physical illness and mental health disorder. As a result, recognizing symptoms of depression and receiving comprehensive care for both body and mind is an integral part of safeguarding health in people with physical illnesses.

Depression Treatment For Complete Health

If you suffer from depression and a co-occurring physical health disorder, seeking treatment for both conditions simultaneously is the best way to optimize your chances of recovery and fortify yourself against damaging effects. A residential treatment program like Bridges to Recovery can allow you the time and space you need to fully focus on your health with the support of experienced clinicians who understand the complex relationship between psychological and somatic conditions. Through a tailored treatment plan designed around your unique needs and symptoms, you can begin to untangle the roots of your depression and develop the skills you need to move forward towards enhanced emotional wellness, confidence, and hope. Our skilled psychiatrists will work with you and your outpatient team to design an effective medication strategy that is compatible with your overall medical treatment, taking into account any special concerns presented by your physical illness. The innovative, interdisciplinary nature of our program allows you to explore your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs, remove obstacles to healing, and improve your quality of life. Here, you can lay the foundation for true, complete recovery and allow yourself to live life to its fullest.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people living with depression as well as other mental health disorders and co-occurring addictions. Contact us to learn more about how our cutting-edge residential program can help you or your loved one on the journey to wellness.