Depression: Mind Body Connection

Posted on 02/15/13 11:20:am

reatment for depression can improve physical health, while failing to treat depression could have dire physical consequences.


Depression is a powerful medical illness which alone can be a very painful and difficult illness for patients and families to recover from. When you add another co-occurring medical condition, like cancer, the intensity of the depression symptoms may become more apparent or even increase.

The connection between mental illness and medical illness has been in conversations for centuries. The greatest minds in mental health and medicine agree there is a relationship. Today, more than ever before what that relationship is, and how it affects people, is getting attention. “Western medicine” is starting to recognize some aspects of “Eastern medicine” are not only real, but highly impactful in people’s lives. The last 30 years have shown resurgence in the exploration of the mind and how it permeates and is affects all of the body’s functions. This resurgence is spurred by chronic medical conditions which appear to be affected by psychological conditions, and appear to improve with psychiatric interventions like psychotherapy.

Depression may amplify the physical symptoms associated with a medical illness in several ways. The co-occurring nature increases impairment in functioning while decreasing adherence to prescribed regimens. Another symptom is suicidal thoughts or taking one’s own life. This can be an independent factor in chronic medical illness, however, the chronic medical illness may intensify these thoughts, making them more common and even more concerning. What people may not realize is that although depression, (which often leads to these suicidal thoughts) is insidious, it is common and treatable.

Depression and Cancer

Cancer is the number 1 killer of Americans under the age of 85. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2013 1,660,290 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed and 580,000 are expected die from the disease. Depression also kills. Suicide occurs at a higher rate than homicide, at a similar rate as breast cancer, and is the second leading cause of death in college students. It is the third leading cause of death in ages 15-24 and fourth in people 24-65. All of these deaths by one’s own hand via suicide. Oftentimes caused by depression, which is very treatable in most cases.

How do they relate? Psychiatric disorders like depression are 15% more prevalent in patients with cancer, than the population as a whole. Depression is up to 60% more common in the more acute or advanced cancer patients. What is unique among cancer patients is that nearly 80% of the psychiatric disorders go unrecognized and untreated. In one study only 2% of cancer patients were receiving antidepressant medications or psychotherapeutic interventions.

At the end of the day, depression major, minor or sub-clinical in nature does have an effect on the body and can have major impacts on people with physical illness, particularly major illnesses. As people understand the connection between mind and body these effects will become more widely known and a common understanding will develop. If you or a family member or other loved one is experiencing major medical illness, they may also be experiencing depression which could have a significant impact on their treatment and how they recover. As always, Rogers provides free depression screenings 7 days a week by calling 1-800-767-4411 or schedule a screening online by visiting

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