Despite less stigma and better treatment, depression still linked to early death, especially in women

Raindrops on a window.

"Most disturbing is the 50% increase in the risk of death for women with depression between 1992 and 2011."

 – Associate Professor Dr. Ian Colman

A recent paper co-authored by University of Ottawa associate professor Dr. Ian Colman and published this month in CMAJ has caught international headlines.

The study called “Depression and mortality in a longitudinal study: 1952–2011” has strongly linked depression to a higher risk of early death—and this risk has increased for women in recent years. These findings are based on results from the 60-year Stirling County Study, which began in 1952 in Atlantic Canada. It is well known internationally as one of the first community-based studies on mental illness.

An international team of researchers, including Dr. Colman, looked at 60 years of mental health data on 3410 adults during three periods (1952–1967, 1968–1990 and 1991–2011) from a region in Atlantic Canada and linked the data to deaths in the Canadian Mortality Database. They found that the link between depression and an increased risk of death was observed in all decades of the study among men, whereas it emerged among women beginning in the 1990s. 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.

The mean age of participants at enrolment in the study was about 49 years.

"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," says Dr. Colman. "Most disturbing is the 50% increase in the risk of death for women with depression between 1992 and 2011."

To see who’s talking about this study, visit the Faculty’s In the News listing.

For more information, read the study in the CMAJ.

Woman sitting in a dark room


Back to top