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Depression and Anxiety: Can They Take the Same Toll on Health as Smoking and Obesity?

Can Depression and Anxiety Affect Health Like Smoking And Obesity?

The short answer is yes. But it’s a little more involved than that. A new study out of UC San Francisco suggests that healthcare providers could be overlooking a vital question during annual physical exams. And that question is: do you feel depressed or anxious? While yearly checkups are all about taking weight and questioning unhealthy habits such as smoking, not much attention is paid to mental health.

Perhaps it should, as anxiety and depression may be top predictors of conditions ranging from high blood pressure, headaches and heart disease to arthritis, back pain and stomach upset, marked by many of the same effects of risk factors like obesity and smoking.

The study, as outlined in Science Daily, analyzed more than 15,000 older adults over a four-year period. This is what they found:

  • 16 percent had elevated levels of depression and anxiety
  • 31 percent were obese
  • 14 percent were currently smokers

Those with high levels of anxiety and depression faced a 65 percent increase in risk for a heart condition, 50 percent for high blood pressure, 64 percent for stroke, and 87 for arthritis, when compared to those who didn’t have anxiety and depression.

Cancer: The Exception to Conditions Affected by Depression and Anxiety

Unlike the other above conditions, researchers found that high levels of depression and anxiety were not linked with the incidence of cancer, confirming results from studies done in the past but adding confusion to the mix.

The findings show that psychological distress is not a strong predictor of cancer. In fact, researchers stress that cancer diagnoses should no longer be associated with histories of stress, depression and anxiety.

Symptoms such as stomach upset, shortness of breath, headache and back pain increased with high stress and depression. Odds for experiencing headaches were more than 160 percent higher in this group, contrasted with no increase among the obese and smoking participants.

Treating Mental Health: Can it Reduce Health Care Costs?

While anxiety and depression symptoms have a strong link to poor physical health, these conditions still don’t get the attention they deserve in primary care settings, as smoking and obesity do. The study results further emphasize the long-term costs of untreated depression and anxiety, serving as a reminder that treatment of mental health conditions can save a lot of money for health care systems.

By screening for mental health concerns in primary care visits, the proper protocol can be set in place to get the patient the help he or she needs. Perhaps if not questioned in a routine yearly check, the patient may not have ever sought help for their anxiety and depression.

Contact Comprehensive MedPsych Systems

If you have been referred by your primary care doctor, or have been feeling anxious and depressed and don’t know where to turn, contact us today for an appointment.

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