Can Depression Kill You?

Understanding the Risks

Is It Possible for Depression to Kill You?
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Depression cannot directly kill you the way that an illness like cancer or tuberculosis might, but it can have certain effects that could lead indirectly to a person being more likely to die.

Depression Increases the Risk for Suicide

The most obvious way that depression might lead to death is if the bad feelings of depression lead a person to decide to take his own life. Depression can make people feel helpless and without hope, causing them to reach the unfortunate conclusion that suicide is the only way to end their misery.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the tenth leading cause of death among all age groups in the year 2013. In addition, there were 41,149 deaths attributed to suicide in the U.S. that year. The American Association of Suicidology estimates that depression is present in about half of all suicides.

Depression May Cause People to Self-Medicate

Some people with depression, if they have never learned other ways to cope with their bad feelings, may turn to drugs and/or alcohol to soothe their painful feelings. When they develop an unhealthy dependency on these substances, however, this is called dual diagnosis since there is an issue of depression and an issue of a substance use disorder. Dual diagnosis complicates the treatment of depression since both conditions must be dealt with as separate, yet interconnected, issues. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that one in four deaths in America can be blamed on alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use.

In addition, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, substances abuse is one of the biggest risk factors for suicide.

Depression May Complicate Other Illnesses

Depression can make co-existing illnesses harder to treat because if you're not feeling well emotionally, it's harder to comply with your treatment regimen.

In addition, people with depression appear to be at greater risk for contracting certain illnesses, such as heart disease, in the first place. All of these factors combined may put people at greater risk for dying from their illness than they otherwise would be if they did not have depression.

Depression May Lead to Poor Lifestyle Choices

If you're depressed, it's harder to make good lifestyle choices. You may not sleep or eat well, you may not get much exercise or you may drink, smoke or use drugs. All of these factors can contribute to putting a higher risk for illness and poor health, which, in turn, makes a person more likely to die prematurely.

Depression is Highly Treatable

When you're depressed, it can seem like your life will never get better and nothing will ever help, but that's not the case. Depression is highly treatable with medication such as antidepressants, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.

Self-Help Strategies for Depression

Along with the individual treatment plan that you and your mental health professional develop to treat your depression, you can also employ some self-help strategies to help stave off feelings of sadness or emptiness.

Here are some ideas:

  • Keep a journal
  • Walk or cuddle with your pet
  • Dance to your favorite music
  • Join a gym to get exercise, a natural mood booster, and make new friends
  • Paint, color or draw
  • Call a friend or close family member
  • Use relaxation techniques 

Sources:

"Dual Diagnosis and Recovery."  Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.  Accessed:  December 23, 2013.

"How Depression Affects Your Body."  WebMD Medical Reference.  Reviewed by: Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 31, 2014.  WebMD, LLC.  Accessed:  December 3, 2015. 

Katon, Wayne.  "Treating Patients with Comorbid Medical Illness."  The Carlat Psychiatry Report.  2013.  Psych Central Professional.  Accessed:  December 3, 2015.

"Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse."  National Institute on Drug Abuse.  December 2012.  National Institutes of Health.  Accessed:  December 3, 2015.

"Suicide:  Facts at a Glance."  National Center for Injury Control and Prevention.  2012.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Accessed:  December 3, 2015.

"10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, United States-2013." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016).

"Depression and Suicide Risk." American Association of Suicidology (2014).

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