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Baby Boomers’ Depression Becomes Serious Risk Factor For Heart Attacks

At twice the rate of likely heart attacks, baby boomers’ depression is a major factor for all to consider.

Baby boomers’ depression is nothing to scoff at: Those of us from that generation are treated for depression more than any other age group, and we’re paying a price for it with our health. A survey from Gallup says one in seven baby boomers or 14 percent are currently being treated for depression. That’s not only higher than younger generations, but even those born between 1900 and 1945. Only 9 percent of the group older than baby boomers report they are being treated for depression, according to Gallup.

What’s significant about those findings is adults who have a heart attack are twice as likely as those who didn’t have a heart attack to have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. Some 30 percent of those who have had a heart attack have dealt with depression.

That’s a staggering discrepancy and a reason not to ignore signs of depression and how it impacts you. Its effect is not only on how you feel but can cost you your life.

Gallup cites research at the Montreal Heart Institute that found those who were depressed were six times more likely to die within six months of their heart attack than those who were not depressed.

The only group that comes close to getting treated for depression is those from Generation X born between 1965 and 1979. That group had its first members turn 50 this year. Millennials, born between 1980 and 1996, only have 7 percent say they’re currently treated for depression, according to Gallup who interviewed more than 170,000 people for its study through the end of 2014.

In previous surveys, Gallup says those in their 50s and 60s was the age group most susceptible to depression. The polling organization, however, hasn’t done the surveys long enough to know if baby boomers had depression issues even before they turned 50.

“Regardless of whether it is a generational or an age effect, as boomers reach retirement age, their higher reports of depression could have wider implications for their overall health and for the U.S. health system,” says Gallup spokesman Dan Witters.

Gallup points out that those born prior to 1946, which is considered the traditionalist generation, while less likely to report depression that baby boomers, doesn’t mean baby boomers will have less depression as they age.

The reason cited by Gallup is that it could be generational dealing with mental health issues. There’s been more research into treating mental illness during the lives of baby boomers. There’s also a shift in culture of people discussing depression and that the oldest Americans were reluctant to talk about or deal with it.

When it comes to being diagnosed with depression in their lifetime, baby boomers report 21 percent have experienced that compared to 15 percent of those born before 1946. Millennials have a similar rate of diagnosis with the oldest Americans. Some 18 percent of those Generation Xers reported such a diagnosis.

Those who are long-term unemployed face the greatest risk of depression.

“Baby boomers could possibly be more prone to depression as a result of changes in the life situations and social pressures in which they find themselves, including financial pressures from impending retirement and paying for a child’s education,” Witters says. “Midlife suicides have become more prominent as boomers reach middle age. Regardless, aging boomers’ higher rates of depression could put an unprecedented burden on mental health services if they maintain them.”

What’s significant for the health care system, Witters says, is that heart disease and depression are two of the most costly diseases at $109 billion a year Heart disease is No. 1 cause of death among men and women and costs $23 billion a year in lost productivity, he says.

Witters says the study doesn’t prove heart attacks increase a person’s chances of having depression, but this definitely shows a link.

Gallup’s survey shows that those who’ve had a heart attack are twice as likely to being treated for depression at 16 percent. That contrasts to 8 percent of those who’ve never had a heart attack say they’re dealing with depression.

“Depression is a known predictor of cardiac problems and is as strong a risk factor for heart disease as diabetes and smoking,” Witters says.

Studies suggest the relationship between depression and heart disease develops from underlying behavioral issues such as a lack of self-care, self-medicating through food or substances and hormonal and inflammatory problems, which trigger heart disease, Witters says.

“Feeling depressed makes it harder to make healthy lifestyle choices,” says Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute. “People are more likely to smoke, overeat, drink too much and work too hard when they’re feeling lonely and depressed.”

Researchers also says those who have a heart attack more get diagnosed with depression after that since it can change a person’s lifestyle and confidence about their future and physical capabilities, Witters says.

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