Does Depression Contribute to Poor Health?
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition of total physical, mental and emotional well-being and not just the absence of illness and disease. Different definitions have been used over time for different applications. The dictionary also has many definitions, one of which is “the condition of being fit and healthy.” That definition could be further defined as “having a good health; the ability to attain and maintain good health; the capacity to carry out activities necessary for living.” Achieving and maintaining good health is the ultimate aim of people all over the world, since health is a precious commodity that no one can obtain without appropriate nutrition and regular exercise.
Although some argue that there is an important link between health and socioeconomic status, it is not clear whether poor health outcomes are the result of socioeconomic differences or of other factors. Some studies have found very small effects of socioeconomic status on health, while others have found no significant difference in health disparities across different income groups. Studies that focus on income disparity tend to find larger health disparities in chronic conditions, such as cancer or diabetes. Income differences may explain part of the disparity in health, but the sources of disparity need to be identified to understand how the pattern of income relates to health.
Poor physical health can also be caused by stress and other types of negative emotions. However, research has found that people who experience consistent negative emotions do not display any more common symptoms of poor physical health than those who do not. This supports the view that emotional distress is related to poor physical health rather than poor quality of life. Emotional distress does not cause physical illness, and is therefore a relevant factor in the development of an illness, but it does not cause it. Stress, on the other hand, can lead to poorer eating habits, less physical activity, greater dependence on medications, and greater likelihood of developing health complications.
People who are mentally healthy also have good health habits. These might include social connections, a sense of humor, a sense of control, and a reliance on practical knowledge. Health professionals argue that many of these mental health characteristics are central elements of well-being.
The relation between psychological and physical wellness is complex and not understood completely. Most measures of psychological well-being rely on self-report questionnaires that may be inaccurate and subject to unreliability. Few people share private mental health information, and few people take steps to improve their health or to prevent illness. Researchers have explored the general relationship between psychological well-being, disease risk factors, and mortality, but they have been unable to draw conclusions about the specific components of health that are related to both psychological wellness and disease risk factors. Researchers also have not looked carefully at whether the components of wellness that they find are influenced by other factors such as ethnicity or place of residence. A greater understanding of the interdependence of these factors will help researchers draw more accurate conclusions about the relationship between wellness and overall health.
The results of studies that examine the association of psychological well-being, disease, and mortality are somewhat mixed. The consistent association of substance use and abuse with an increased risk for several types of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease has led researchers to believe that physical health is related to mental health, but that substance use and abuse do not cause or contribute to a psychiatric illness. Although researchers have not determined whether the increased risk of substance use and abuse is caused by psychological illness, they believe that the two may be indirectly related. Substance use and abuse, they note, may exacerbate the problem of depression and other emotional disorders that cause physical illness.