Abstract

Background

Depression is reported to be associated with increased mortality, although underlying mechanisms are uncertain. Associations between anxiety and mortality are also uncertain.

Aims

To investigate associations between individual and combined anxiety/depression symptom loads (using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)) and mortality over a 3–6 year period.

Method

We utilised a unique link between a large population survey (HUNT–2, n = 61 349) and a comprehensive mortality database.

Results

Case-level depression was associated with increased mortality (hazard ratio (HR) = 1.52, 95% CI 1.35–1.72) comparable with that of smoking (HR = 1.59, 95% CI 1.44–1.75), and which was only partly explained by somatic symptoms/conditions. Anxiety comorbid with depression lowered mortality compared with depression alone (anxiety depression interaction P = 0.017). The association between anxiety symptom load and mortality was U-shaped.

Conclusions

Depression as a risk factor for mortality was comparable in strength to smoking. Comorbid anxiety reduced mortality compared with depression alone. The relationship between anxiety symptoms and mortality was more complex with a U-shape and highest mortality in those with the lowest anxiety symptom loads.

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