Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Large study finds that the combination of diabetes and depression ups mortality risk

Depression and diabetes are two prevalent conditions in the United States, affecting about 14.8 million and 23.5 million adults a year, respectively. And they frequently appear together — 20% to 25% of people with diabetes suffer from depression, nearly twice as many as those without diabetes. People with diabetes might feel depressed by the diagnosis and overwhelmed by the effort it takes to manage this chronic disease. A report by Harvard researchers supports earlier findings that the combination of depression and diabetes significantly increases the risk of premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease — at least among women of a certain demographic.

The 78,282 women participants in the Nurses' Health Study were all registered nurses (ages 54 to 79, 97.6% white), followed since the year 2000. After six years of follow-up, 4,654 women had died. Women with diabetes had a 35% increased risk of dying and those with depression had about a 40% increased risk of dying, compared with women who had neither condition. Women with both conditions were twice as likely to die prematurely.

When researchers looked specifically at deaths from cardiovascular disease, they found that the mortality risk was even higher. Women with diabetes had a 67% increased risk of death, and women with depression had a 37% increased risk; those with both conditions were 2.7 times as likely to die of cardiovascular disease as women who had neither condition.

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