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Women of all ages and younger men with anxiety or depression more likely to develop chronic illnesses, research says

A retrospective study titled Association of Depression and Anxiety With the Accumulation of Chronic Conditions, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, found that women of all ages and younger men with anxiety and depression are more likely to develop certain chronic illnesses. The research analysed the health data of 40,360 adults from Olmsted County in Minnesota, from the Rochester Epidemiology Project medical records-linkage system. 

For the research, the participants were split into three age groups of 20, 40, and 60 years old and further divided into four groups of those with anxiety; depression; anxiety and depression; and, neither anxiety nor depression. Compared to the participants who didn’t have either anxiety or depression, women in all three age groups and men in their 20s who had either depression or anxiety and depression were at a much higher risk of developing a chronic condition. In fact, 15 of them, some of which are hypertension, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and most cancers.

Even in the three age groups, women in their 20s, who had both anxiety and depression, were at the highest risk of developing chronic illnesses, with an increased risk of over 61 per cent as compared to participants without either mental disorder. The least likely were women in their 60s who had anxiety alone. As for the men, those who had anxiety and depression in the age 20 group were most likely to develop a chronic condition, with a nearly 72 per cent risk increase. Whereas, men with anxiety in the age 60 group were least likely with an over 8 per cent decrease in risk.

Dr Preeti Singh, senior consultant, clinical psychology and psychotherapy and chief medical officer, Lissun, not only concurs with the findings of the study but also said that the reverse is also true: “There is enough research to tell us that when a patient who is having a mental health condition will take longer to recover from a physical ailment until and unless the underlying mental health issue is treated or cured. The vice versa is also true. Any man or woman, diagnosed with a chronic condition will also be at a higher risk for developing mental health conditions because the chronic physical condition entails a lot of transformations and changes in terms of quality of life and lifestyle- from impacting their work, to relationships and of course, the treatment itself. Many times, (in cases like cancer or chronic kidney conditions)the treatment is invasive intrusive, intense and frequent.”

“All this creates dissonance and stress for the patient. As a result, they get into isolation, are withdrawn and don’t reach out for help. The shock of a chronic disease itself could be life-threatening. Besides, the feelings of denial and hopelessness are natural reactions in the beginning,” she added. 

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