Research shows increase in early death for women, shorter lifespan for youth

Despite an increase in awareness of depression, and other mental health issues, it remains one of the largest contributors to early death, and according to a new study by professors at the University of Ottawa, the risk for women has significantly increased in recent years.

Depression and mortality in a population-based longitudinal study: 1952 to 2011,  published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Oct. 23, 2017, is a research project with contributors around the world, including minds from right here at the U of O.

The team, including Dr. Ian Colman, Canada Research Chair in the School of Epidemiology at the U of O, looked at 60 years of mental health data for 3,410 adults during three periods: 1952–67, 1968–90 and 1991–2011 from a region in Atlantic Canada, and linked the data to deaths in the Canadian Mortality Database.

When the study initially started in 1952, the team focused on the link between depression and increased risks of death among men. However, they began to focus on the risks associated with women in the 1990s.

“Most disturbing is the 50 per cent increase in the risk of death for women with depression between 1992 and 2011,” Colman said.

According to the study, “the risk of death associated with depression appeared strongest in the years following a depressive episode, leading the authors to speculate that this risk could be reversed by achieving remission of depression.”

Findings from the research, which may hit particularly close to home with university students, suggest that young adults with depression could have a shorter than average lifespan.

“The lifespan for young adults with depression at age 25 was markedly shorter over the 60-year period, ranging from 10 to 12 fewer years of life in the first group, four to seven years in the second group, and seven to 18 fewer years of life in the 1992 group,” Colman said.

Although the cause of depression has been previously linked to many contributing factors, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, substance abuse, and chronic health conditions, according to the research, these did not explain the increased risk of death associated with depression in this study.

The study suggests that “societal change may help explain the emergent risk of death for women with depression.”

“During the last 20 years of the study in which women’s risk of death increased significantly, roles have changed dramatically both at home and in the workplace, and many women shoulder multiple responsibilities and expectations,” Colman said.

The authors of the study suggest that family physicians monitor patients for mood disturbances, especially recurrent episodes of depression, so that they may offer treatment and support to prevent these events in the future.

The U of O has several services in place for students with mental health issues such as depression, through the Student Academic Success Service and U of O Health Services offices.