Depression, according to new research just published in The Lancet, is more damaging to your everyday wellbeing than chronic diabetes, angina, asthma, or arthritis. But the most disabling of all is the combination of depression and diabetes: If you have both, you are living at the equivalent of only sixty percent of full health.
The huge study, sponsored by the World Health Organization, collected data from over 240,000 people from sixty countries. It asked eighteen questions pertaining to general health and disability in working or household activities, plus twelve questions about sleep, pain, cognition, self-care, vision, mobility, energy, and personal activities.
On the basis of interviews and those self-reports, people with neither depression nor chronic disease had the highest health score: 90.6. But things went down from there. People with either asthma, angina, arthritis, or diabetes had health scores of about 79.
For those with depression alone, the health score was only 72.9, indicating that depression produces the biggest decline in general health of the five chronic conditions. Of the people with diabetes, 9.3 percent also had depression. And they were in the worst shape of all on measures of general health.
The researchers advise that when treating people with chronic disease, physicians need to widen their focus, looking beyond the physical ailment alone to consider the patient’s mental health. Unfortunately, depression doesn’t get the serious attention paid to physical ailments, possibly because there is no lab test to diagnose it.
In Australia, for example, fewer than thirty percent of patients receive good treatment for their depression, in contrast to the eighty to ninety percent who receive good care for arthritis or asthma. The researchers believe that better access to treatment may be why the chronic diseases are less disabling than depression.
Nevertheless, there are now effective ways to treat depression, including medication as well as counseling, and such treatment can have a profound healing effect on a patient’s overall health and wellbeing.
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Sources: ScientificAmerican.com; The Lancet, September 2007; Forbes.com; Medpage Today