New study finds that respiratory diseases increase the risk of depression later in life

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  • This is the first large study to investigate the link between chronic respiratory conditions and mental health
  • The findings show that respiratory illnesses like asthma can lead to depression and anxiety later in life
  • The study may help determine how healthcare services approach the interaction of comorbidities and mental health 

People with multiple respiratory conditions are more likely to develop depression and anxiety later on in their lives, according to a new study.

The research published in The Lancet Regional Health - Europe is the first of its kind to assess how specific physical diseases can be associated with common mental health conditions later in life.

Identifying multiple morbidities 

The researchers collected information from more than 500 000 participants aged between 40 and 69 years from 22 different assessment centres across England, Scotland, and Wales between 2006 and 2010.

Participants were registered with the general practitioner in their neighbourhood. During the first assessment, researchers gathered sociodemographic, lifestyle, and medical information from all patients in the study by means of a questionnaire. 

In 2016, 157 366 people completed an online mental health questionnaire. This questionnaire collected information relating to depression, generalised anxiety disorder, alcohol and substance misuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, mania, psychosis, and self-harm, using both established psychometrics and self-reporting.

The effect of comorbidities on mental health

The study results show that people with three chronic diseases had double the chance of developing depression later in life compared to those with only one or no physical health conditions.

The risk of future depression increased proportionally with the number of chronic illnesses. The researchers also found that people with respiratory health conditions such as asthma and emphysema had a more than three times higher chance of experiencing depression later in life than those without such conditions.

The relationship between multimorbidity and later experiences of anxiety was found to be similar to the results with depression.

The researchers say that the findings of this study are of great importance in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic, and that the potential impact of the virus on mental health needs to be considered.

They add that the Covid-19 pandemic may have serious implications for healthcare services in terms of increases in long-term respiratory issues and mental health conditions. 

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

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