Stress and lower life expectancy linked

There is a link between stress and lower life expectancy, new research has suggested. Published by the British Medical Journal, the investigation showed the risk of heart attacks or strokes increase by 20 per cent when a person suffers from low-level stress.

According to the study, mortality rates from causes such as these escalate as a result of psychological distress including anxiety and depression.

It was demonstrated, however, that even individuals with lower distress levels - who are unlikely to be identified by mental health services and account for around one-quarter of the population - are at a greater risk of death.

Fellow of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh Dr Tom Russ noted: "We found psychological distress was a risk factor for death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and external causes."

Dr Helen Nightingale CPsychol commented: "This is a very medically orientated very broad piece of research and it suffers from the huge need to generalise results from the use of very large numbers and the combining of ten meta-analyses of very large populations, so tight conclusions are very limited. 

"And only one measure was used for psychological distress, the General Health Questionnaire. The fitness of handling results from such large numbers is always compromised and is probably limited to health trends and public health information."

Dr Jennifer Wild C Psychol, a consultant clinical psychologist and senior lecturer Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, adds:

"These findings are important and timely, particularly following recent cuts that are affecting mental health services across the UK. The study clearly shows a link between psychological distress in the form of anxiety and depression and increased risk of death. But psychological distress was measured via self-report, which typically over-estimates rates of stress. Also,  there could be unaccounted for contributors to mortality, such as particular bacteria or viruses, which are not easily or routinely measured. On the whole, however, the findings underscore the link between physical and mental health and the need to alleviate even minor symptoms of anxiety and depression since this may improve longevity."

"People should not ignore their mental health or go for ‘quick fixes’ in the form of medication, which GPs typically choose. Treatments that have a strong evidence base, such as CBT, and lead to higher rates of long-term recovery may be particularly important for helping people to overcome anxiety and depression and enjoy better overall health."