Treating the Mind, Body and Soul

Depression linked to longer hospital stays for physical illness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Health problems may linger longer if they’re coupled with mental health problems. A new study finds that depression is a risk factor for more time spent at the hospital.

Researchers suggest that treating depressive symptoms in patients with physical illnesses could result in shorter stints in the hospital and overall less cost in health care.

"Tell you doctor if you’re feeling depressed."

A. Matthew Prina, Doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge, and lead author of this study, which was conducted in the Department of Public Health & Primary Care at the University of Cambridge Institute of Public Health. Prina directed a team of researchers to look at hospitalization rates for elderly patients with and without depression.

Elderly patients with depression, that are being admitted into hospitals for non-mental health reasons,  are sticking around hospitals for longer periods of time than patients without depression.

Prina’s study aims to find any links that exist between depressive symptoms in elderly patients and hospitalizations for non-mental health reasons.

The data for the study was retrieved from the 1995-2006 archives of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA). According to the study, researchers were able to see: “Hospital outcomes including admission, length of stay, readmission and death while in hospital were recorded at 6, 12 and 24 months intervals after each LASA interview.”

The point was to find out if the patients were getting what they needed in terms of care. If depression is a risk factor that may contribute negatively to a physical illness, does the depression need to be treated as well for optimal recovery?

After one year the LASA group reported 14 percent of patients with depressive symptoms compared to only 10 percent of patients without depressive symptoms were hospitalized. The death rate for people during a hospitalization was twice as high for depressed patients, .8 percent vs. .4 percent, for non-depressed patients.

The length of time patients stayed in the hospital was also nearly double, 2.6 days vs. 1.4 days: patients with depressive symptoms vs. those without.

Armed with this knowledge, Prina and his team hope that medical professionals can treat patients that present with depression as an independent risk factor to their physical illness more effectively.

Awareness of depressive symptoms could influence treatment plans, speed up physical recovery and improve health.  Overall the result could be better care for the patient, reduction in treatment costs and shorter sick time for the patient.

This study was published in the online journal PLoS ONE, April 2012. The study was funded by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports to The Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA), no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
April 22, 2012
Last Updated:
April 28, 2012