Study: Depression and anxiety may be as bad for you as smoking

There was a major exception to the trend: Researchers found that depression and anxiety did not lead to a higher risk of cancer.

Photo: Paul Walker via Flickr

We’ve known for a while now that depression and anxiety are serious mental illnesses that can prove debilitating to those who experience them. But a new study shows just how much of a threat mental health issues pose to our health.

The study suggests that health effects of anxiety and depression can be as negative as other major risk factors such as smoking or obesity.  Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, combed through data about more than 15,000 retirees and found that people with depression or anxiety faced far greater odds of having a heart condition, stroke, high blood pressure and arthritis.

The results were similar to those for individuals who were obese or smoked, though people with depression or anxiety were at an even greater risk of arthritis than those with other risk factors.

“Anxiety and depression symptoms are strongly linked to poor physical health, yet these conditions continue to receive limited attention in primary care settings, compared to smoking and obesity,” first author Andrea Niles said in a press release.

There was a major exception to the trend: Researchers found that depression and anxiety did not lead to a higher risk of cancer. Even though cancer survivors often feel their stress levels and overall mental health contribute to their diagnosis, hard data from this and other studies indicate that is not the case.

Still, there are enough major diseases linked to depression and anxiety that the study’s authors argue it’s time for doctors to focus more on mental health as a major risk factor. And for those of us who aren’t in the medical profession, these new findings serve as a good reminder to prioritize our emotional and psychological well-being. Our life may depend on it.

Alexandra Villarreal|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at avillarreal@theladders.com.