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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Depression increases people’s mortality as much as smoking

Embargoed until 01 August 2009

Depression can increase people’s mortality as much as smoking, a new study claims.

Researchers at King’s College London teamed up with researchers in Norway to investigate whether depression and anxiety are associated with increased mortality. The large-scale study was carried out in Norway and involved 61,349 people. The findings are published in the August issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry. The study showed that depression is associated with increased mortality. Moreover, depression is as great a risk factor for mortality as smoking.

Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, lead researcher Dr Arnstein Mykeltun and colleagues said: “To illustrate the strength of the association between depression and mortality, we compared it with the effect of current smoking – an accepted risk factor for mortality and a target for major public health initiatives.

“The odds ratios for mortality associated with smoking and depression were comparable. This illustrates the potential importance of depression as a risk factor for mortality – however, the reasons for this require further consideration.”

The researchers found no association between anxiety and mortality. However, when they studied patients who had both anxiety and depression they found lower mortality.

Dr Mykeltun and colleagues described this finding as “counter-intuitive” because having both anxiety and depression is associated with poorer physical health and more disability than having depression alone.

The researchers suggest that people who experience anxiety may be more likely to seek help when they feel unwell, be more likely to follow any treatment given to them, and be less likely to indulge in risky behaviour that could put them at risk of accidental death. “In other words, there may be an evolutionary advantage of moderate levels of anxiety, a hypothesis that requires further evaluation,” they said.

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Mykletun A, Bjerkeset O, Øverland S, Prince M, Dewey M and Stewart R (2009) Levels of anxiety and depression as predictors of mortality: the HUNT study, British Journal of Psychiatry, 195: 118-125


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