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Surprising Science

Leaving Depression Unchecked Elevates Stroke Risk

A study suggests that long-term depression can more than double one’s chances of suffering a stroke.

When we talk about health, physical and mental illnesses tend to be placed in two distinct groups. But as the medical community continues to make sense of the connections between body and mind, this simplistic duality has come into question. Given that mental illnesses like depression can have physiological causes, it’s unsurprising to learn that such conditions may impact physical health later in life.

A Harvard University study of individuals in their 50s found that those who suffered from depression for at least two years had a staggering 114 percent increase in stroke risk. Those who had short-term depression or recent onset of depression were not as likely to have suffered strokes, but still carried a 66 percent higher risk than their non-depressed counterparts.

“Our findings suggest that depression may increase stroke risk over the long term. Looking at how changes in depressive symptoms over time may be associated with strokes allowed us to see if the risk of stroke increases after elevated depressive symptoms start or if risk goes away when depressive symptoms do. We were surprised that changes in depressive symptoms seem to take more than two years to protect against or elevate stroke risk,” said Paola Gilsanz, lead author of the study.

It’s unsettling to learn of depression’s impact on cardiovascular health, but there is a silver lining to the results of the study. This type of information, if it reaches the public consciousness, can go a long way toward educating the public on the very real dangers of depression.

While doctors and scientists are ahead of the curve with their forward-thinking ideas about mental illness, many laypeople have not come to accept these perspectives. In many circles, depression is still a heavily stigmatized condition, thought to have no relation to detectable, physiological illness. To some, the best antidote to depression is simply “getting over it.” While depressed individuals should not underestimate their own agency, medical intervention and social support are often important parts of recovery.

This study is the latest in an increasingly long line of testaments that there’s a lot more to depression than “getting over it.” It brings real, measurable consequences, and its presence shouldn’t be hidden or brushed aside.

According to Dr. Shamim Quadir of the Stroke Association, “Anyone feeling depressed or concerned about their risk of stroke should speak to their [doctor].”

Read more at The Guardian.  


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