Mental health problems can be as bad for your health as smoking

Created date

February 14th, 2019
A woman holds her head in her hand, a man doing the same in the background

Take care of your mental health! Neglecting to do so can be as bad for you as smoking.

Addressing psychological problems could be one of the best things you can do for your health, according to new research.

A study by University of California San Francisco researchers shows that mental health problems may be good predictors for certain diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, and stroke. In fact, their findings suggest that depression and anxiety in particular may be as significant as other risk factors such as smoking and obesity.

In addition, the research found that headaches, back pain, and upset stomach—problems that are also associated with smoking and obesity—were closely linked to depression and anxiety.

Extensive study

The researchers evaluated the health data of more than 15,000 older adults over a four-year period. They found that people with high levels of depression and anxiety had about a 65% increased likelihood for a heart problem, 64% for stroke, and 50% for high blood pressure when compared to subjects without depression or anxiety. These percentages are similar to the increased likelihoods conferred by smoking and obesity.

There was an exception: Anxiety and depression seem to confer higher risks than smoking and obesity when it comes to arthritis. People with these emotional health problems were 87% more likely to develop arthritis.

Health care providers usually ask about your weight, diet, exercise, and whether you smoke, but the researchers say their findings suggest that providers should ask their patients if they have had symptoms of depression or anxiety as part of a checkup. These emotional health issues should be treated promptly to avoid more medical conditions down the road.