According to new research, even minor anxiety and depression symptoms may lead to a lower life expectancy.
Risk of death from several major causes was more likely to occur for those with symptoms over an eight year period.
"Don't just shrug off anxiety if it's not resolving."
"The fact that an increased risk of mortality was evident, even at low levels of psychological distress, should prompt research into whether treatment of these very common, minor symptoms can reduce this increased risk of death,” said Tom Russ, MRCPsych, Alzheimer Scotland clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh.
The study involved over 68,000 participants over 35 years old who took the Health Survey for England from 1994 to 2004. Participants underwent screenings annually. Approximately a quarter of participants suffered from minor anxiety or depression related symptoms.
All participants were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the beginning of the study.
Researchers used a 12 question version of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) to measure psychological distress for the study. The GHQ-12 is a widely used measure of mental health in large population studies.
Over an eight year follow-up period there were 3,382 cardiovascular related deaths and 2,252 cancer related deaths. There were also 386 deaths from other causes. The researchers found that those with higher scores on the GHQ-12 were more likely to have died during the follow-up period than those with lower scores.
In order to prove that the mental health symptoms were linked to mortality, researchers eliminated other health risk factors while analyzing the data.
"These associations also remained after we did our best to take into account other factors such as weight, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption and diabetes,” said David Batty, PhD, a Wellcome Trust research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at University College London. “Therefore this increased mortality is not simply due to people with higher levels of psychological distress having poorer health behaviours."
The study was published online July 31, 2012 in the British Medical Journal. There was no specific funding provided for this study but study authors are supported by Alzheimer Scotland, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, and others. The study authors have no conflicts of interest to report.