Depression is a mental health condition that impacts people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds. This condition affects 350 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Someone who grapples with depression is likely going to experience a number of devastating symptoms, including, however not limited to, the following:
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of helplessness
- Change in weight or appetite
- Sleep disturbances/wakefulness
- Lack of energy
- Problems concentrating
- Physical aches and pains
- Feelings of self-loathing
Struggling with depression not only impacts the life of the individual who is experiencing it first-hand, but it can also impact those surrounding him or her, such as friends, family, and co-workers, in a negative manner. The risks associated with depression are not just limited to those listed above, as someone facing this mental health condition can also experience problems with productivity at work, leading to job loss, demotion, and/or financial strain. His or her social life can begin to diminish, as the idea of gathering with others often seems unappealing. Additionally, marriages and relationships with family members can start to deteriorate, which can lead to conflict.
One potential effect of untreated depression that is rarely discussed is the risk to one’s cardiovascular health. Those who suffer from depression are more likely to experience cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and heart attack, than those who are not depressed.
How ECU is Addressing the Connection Between Depression and Cardiovascular Risks
With the knowledge that those who are depressed are more likely to suffer cardiovascular problems in life, researchers at ECU in Greenville, North Carolina are conducting a study to help reduce both depression and the risk of heart-related problems.
Following the statistics that those with depression are anywhere from 60% to 80% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, researchers are treating participants of their Happy Hearts ECU study through behavioral activation treatment.
Within this study, researchers work with participants by first studying their behaviors. From there, the researchers suggest making minor changes to their everyday behaviors to help bring on major change.
According to the leader of the study, Dr. Matt Whited of ECU, he encourages patients to do things that they normally would not do because of their depression. “We work in really tiny things at first. It might be, you know, ‘how long would it take you to call your cousin that you have lost touch with? I mean 5, 10 minutes? Okay, let’s, will you do that tonight?’ After getting a participant to comply, he and the other researchers continue with this approach, building in little things to do daily in an effort to establish a pattern that will lead to effective change that will allow the individual to slowly remove themselves from their depressive state.
This study lasts for 12 weeks, and will include tracking the participants’ moods and activities on an hourly basis, and encouraging them to partake in therapy sessions simultaneously. By helping to reduce depressive behaviors, Dr. Whited and his team of researchers hope to decrease the presence of cardiovascular disease, as well as other negative effects that can develop in the face of active depression.
Gathering Information: What Can You Do?
According to Dr. Roy C. Ziegelstein, M.D. of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, depression and heart disease are highly related to one another. “A percentage of people with no history of depression become depressed after a heart attack or after developing heart failure. And people with depression but no previously detected heart disease seem to develop heart disease at a higher rate than the general population,” he states.
On either side of the coin, these two conditions play into one another at an alarming rate. Symptoms of heart disease, which is the most common cardiovascular condition to impact those with depression (particularly women) can present with the following symptoms:
- Increased heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or dizziness
When struggling with an all-consuming mental health condition like depression, it can be simple to ignore these symptoms, especially in the beginning stages, or chalk them up to something they are not. It is often difficult for the individual grappling with this co-occurring problem to realize what is truly going on, which is why it is imperative for family members and loved ones of those who are depressed to be aware of the many possibilities that can occur when an individual close to them is depressed. If you have a loved one in your life who is depressed, take into consideration the many signs and symptoms of major health risks like heart disease and other cardiovascular problems in an effort to help your loved one obtain the treatment they might need, especially if they are refusing to treat their depression (which would be the first, most ideal step to take in this situation).
At Wilmington Treatment Center, we are dedicated to helping our patients identify and address their mental health conditions in a manner that allows them to build a positive state of recovery for themselves. In doing so, we are able to properly decrease and/or prevent consequences such as heart disease from occurring. If you or a loved one are in need of treatment for depression, please do not hesitate to reach out to us right now. We can help.