Facts to Know About Depression

How Depression Can Speed Up Aging

sad woman's face

Depression is one of the most prevalent of diseases, and can be among the most debilitating, in serious cases rendering a person almost entirely unable to function. Even so, since depression is a disease that can be subtle, it often proceeds undiagnosed. The cause of depression can be physiologic and/or psychological. Although we imagine depression as a mental and emotional problem, many depressions in fact have underlying organic causes. For instance, people diagnosed with clinical depression often have low levels of the hormone serotonin in the brain, suggesting physiologic origin. Moreover, there are almost always physiological symptoms, including sluggishness, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, a general sense of helplessness or uselessness, and occasionally, suicidal tendencies.

People become more susceptible to depression as they age. It is also a disease that can lead to unnecessary aging. Depression typically affects women in menopause, both men and women who have newly retired, and anyone who's suffered a major aging event like a heart attack or diagnosis of cancer. Sometimes the trigger may be biological, sometimes sociological. For any reason, depression happens.

Depression is linked to an increased rate of arterial and cardiovascular aging. In a study made at Duke University, men and women who had heart disease and depression had a 69 percent higher rate of deaths from heart disease over the next 19 years than those who merely had heart disease and no depression. In some study, depressed people had a 54 percent increase in stroke rate over twenty-nine years. Other smaller studies have described similar effects of depression to increase arterial aging events, like impotence, memory loss, heart attacks, and strokes. Likewise, women suffering from depression have lower bone density, presumably from expanded levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, which is found in greater amounts in the blood of depressed people. In addition to causing rapid aging, the symptoms of depression—lethargy, sluggishness, a feeling that nothing in the world matters—lead to behaviors that can speed up aging. Depressed individuals are less likely to exercise, to eat a healthy diet, or to make any effort towards healthy living.

Women are twice as likely to be depressed as compared to men, though no one knows why. Hypotheses run the gamut. Some researchers think that women undergo more discrimination and usually have to juggle more social roles. Others see the disparity as stemming from biological (mostly hormonal) differences. About 10 percent of women suffer from depression during pregnancy, and a few suffer with postpartum depression after giving birth. Additionally, women tend to have a higher incidence of hypothyroidism, a physical condition also linked with depression.

Social stresses, like divorce or the death of a loved one can induce depression. Medications also could trigger depression, as can disease. Individuals recouping from heart attacks and strokes are recognized to be particularly prone to depression. Are the heart attack and its effects depressing, or is another factor responsible, like the medications taken? It is known that those who get depressed after heart attacks have a higher risk of further arterial aging. They have over twice the mortality rate in the 2 years that follow the heart attack compared to those who get depressed and recover from the depression, and over four times the mortality rate of those who don't get depressed. Treating depression using talk therapy and medications, and treating heart disease with medications that bring down arterial aging, like statins, appears to decrease both the depression and arterial aging.

The great news is that treatment for depression is 98 percent effective inside a few months of its initiation; this entails the accelerated aging that depression causes can be kept off. However, the greatest problem is that a lot of depressed people are usually unable to seek help on their own. If you suspect that somebody you care about is depressed, check more about the condition and see if you can get help for him or her. Be sure it's specialized help. Your primary care physician might be wonderful, but he or she is perhaps not the best person for detecting depression. The signs are subtle, and since depression was mostly misunderstood until the mid-1980s, many doctors weren't educated to recognize the disease. One recent study found that family doctors discovered depression in only approximately 35 percent of all cases. Thus, if you suspect that you or somebody you care about might be suffering from depression, get the right help. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists are all prepared to recognize the symptoms of depression and offer a lot of possible treatments.