Connection between Mental Illness, Cardiovascular Disease

Strong Connection between Mental Illnesses and Cardiovascular Disease Underscore Need for Integrated Care
January 31, 2020

February Is American Heart Month

Depression, anxiety and stress have been linked to the onset or exacerbation of heart disease and conversely, cardiovascular illnesses could lead to depression and other mental illnesses, according to the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and American Heart Association. While nearly 20% of Americans experience depression in their lifetimes, the rate is 50% among people with heart disease. In addition, adults with clinical depression have more than twice the risk of developing coronary artery disease or suffering heart attacks. Furthermore, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that as many as 65% of individuals with coronary heart disease who have had heart attacks have also experienced depression. Mental illnesses could lead to cardiovascular disease and the trauma of coronary incidents may contribute to depression.

"These staggering statistics reinforce the importance of integrated care to ensure that physical and mental illnesses are diagnosed and treated, with consideration being made as to how medications for one type of illness could interfere with the effectiveness of other prescriptions or may cause harmful side effects," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc.

Additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease among individuals with mental illnesses are unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors. For example, individuals with mental illnesses are twice as likely to use tobacco, compared to the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Individuals with mental illnesses are generally more likely to consume alcohol and less likely to follow healthy diets or exercise. In addition, some psychiatric medications could contribute to risk of cardiovascular disease due to the side effect of weight gain, which could make it more difficult for individuals' bodies to break down sugars and fats.

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