Depression and the Body: Kids Aren’t Immune


130315202640It with interest that I read the new study by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Pittsburgh that suggest that depression can increase the risk of heart problems later in life, even in children. We would all like to think that kids are more resilient than that. Then again, I suffered from depression in my early years, and today I’m blessed with a heart condition, a few benign tumors, and some health problems that remain unexplained. Is my fragile makeup caused by the breakdown of my immune system back when I was watching Tom and Jerry with a bowl of Fruit Loops? Possibly.

Says Robert M. Carney, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Washington University. “Active smokers as adolescents are twice as likely to die by the age of 55 than nonsmokers, and we see similar risks with obesity, so finding this link between childhood depression and these risk factors suggests that we need to very closely monitor young people who have been depressed.”

Perhaps this new research is more significant than we think to closing the gap between emotional sickness and physical illness. Awhile back I read a list of disorders that depression causes in the body that the physicians from Johns Hopkins compiled.

Most people don’t think depression affects any other organ besides the brain. However, recent studies are finding that depression affects a host of other disorders. Among the conditions are these, just posted from a Johns Hopkins newsletter that I subscribe to:

Headache. Chronic headaches, particularly tension headaches, occur frequently in people with depression and anxiety. They’re most likely caused by contracting the muscles of the scalp and neck, a common physical reaction when you’re under emotional stress.

Diarrhea and constipation. Anxiety is often linked with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can manifest itself as diarrhea or constipation. Some experts estimate that 60% of people with IBS have a mental health disorder, and about 60% of those have generalized anxiety disorder. It’s possible that anxiety may make you more aware of spasms in your colon or that anxiety affects the immune system and may trigger symptoms of IBS.

Nausea and vomiting. Nausea (as well as vomiting) may be considered a symptom of mood disorders. One large study found that 41% of people who had major complaints of nausea in the past year were then diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and 24% were diagnosed with depression.

Heart disease. People who become depressed after a heart attack are at increased risk for a second, fatal heart attack, while people without heart disease who become depressed increase their risk of developing or dying of heart disease. The heart-mind link may also include anxiety, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, inflammation, and behavioral issues, as people who are anxious or depressed are less likely to engage in heart-healthy activities like exercising and healthy eating and more prone to weight issues and smoking.
Osteoporosis. People with major depression often have lower bone mineral density, a measure of the strength of your bones, than those with no mood disorders. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are associated with increased fracture risk, but there’s growing evidence that depression itself may put bones at risk. One theory is that depression may cause increased levels of a neurotransmitter that interferes with bone building.

High blood pressure. Evidence suggests that chronic anxiety may lead to high blood pressure. Anxiety is likely to produce temporary spikes in blood pressure rather than persistent hypertension. Frequent spikes can damage your blood vessels, heart, and kidneys and increase your risk of a stroke.

Never before has the pursuit of wellness been so important, especially to our youth.

Image courtesy of Science Daily.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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1 Response
  1. my daughter had migraines associated with her depression. Also, the added stress caused her to have stomach aches all the time. Now that she is being treated appropriately, head ache and stomach issue are gone.