Can Depression Be Life-Threatening?

Understanding the Risks

Depressed woman
Tara Moore/Taxi/Getty Images

Depression cannot directly kill you the way that an illness like cancer or tuberculosis might, but it can have certain effects that could lead indirectly to a person being more likely to die.

Depression Increases the Risk for Suicide

The most obvious way that depression might lead to death is if the bad feelings of depression lead a person to decide to take his own life. Depression can make people feel helpless and without hope, causing them to reach the unfortunate conclusion that suicide is the only way to end their misery.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the tenth leading cause of death among all age groups in the year 2013. In addition, there were 41,149 deaths attributed to suicide in the U.S. that year. The American Association of Suicidology estimates that depression is present in about half of all suicides.

A Cause for People to Self-Medicate

Some people with depression, if they have never learned other ways to cope with their bad feelings, may turn to drugs and/or alcohol to soothe their painful feelings. When they develop an unhealthy dependency on these substances, however, this is called dual diagnosis since there is an issue of depression and an issue of a substance use disorder. Dual diagnosis complicates the treatment of depression since both conditions must be dealt with as separate, yet interconnected, issues. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that one in four deaths in America can be blamed on alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use. In addition, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, substances abuse is one of the biggest risk factors for suicide.

Complication of Other Illnesses

Depression can make co-existing illnesses harder to treat because if you're not feeling well emotionally, it's harder to comply with your treatment regimen. In addition, people with depression appear to be at greater risk for contracting certain illnesses, such as heart disease, in the first place. All of these factors combined may put people at greater risk for dying from their illness than they otherwise would be if they did not have depression.

Depression May Lead to Poor Lifestyle Choices

If you're depressed, it's harder to make good lifestyle choices. You may not sleep or eat well, you may not get much exercise or you may drink, smoke or use drugs. All of these factors can contribute to putting a higher risk for illness and poor health, which, in turn, makes a person more likely to die prematurely.

Depression Is Highly Treatable

When you're depressed, it can seem like your life will never get better and nothing will ever help, but that's not the case. Depression is highly treatable with medication such as antidepressants, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.

Self-Help Strategies for Depression

Along with the individual treatment plan that you and your mental health professional develop to treat your depression, you can also employ some self-help strategies to help stave off feelings of sadness or emptiness. Here are some ideas:

  • Keep a journal
  • Walk or cuddle with your pet
  • Dance to your favorite music
  • Join a gym to get exercise, a natural mood booster, and make new friends
  • Paint, color or draw
  • Call a friend or close family member
  • Use relaxation techniques 
Was this page helpful?

Article Sources