Why Depression Treatment is an Integral Component of Holistic Health Care

Philipp Frank, PhD.
Philipp Frank, PhD.

How can clinicians best account for the burden of physical illness that often falls upon patients with depression?

Depression Care360 connected with Philipp Frank, PhD, to learn more about his study “Association Between Depression and Physical Conditions Requiring Hospitalization” recently published in JAMA Psychiatry.

In Part 2 of this Q&A, Dr Frank discusses why paying attention to physical illness alongside mental health is an essential component of administering holistic health care.

Missed Part 1 of this Q&A? Find it here! For more expert insights on depression, visit Depression Care360.

Brionna Mendoza, Associate Digital Editor, Depression Care360Were there any outcomes different than you expected? 

Frank Philipp, PhD: What surprised us the most was that depression was linked to such a vast array of physical diseases. Our findings suggest that the impact of depression on physical health is widespread and not limited to a specific area of the body or a particular group of diseases. 

Mendoza, Depression Care360What aspects of depression might contribute to other physical and mental diseases?

Dr Frank: Our research did not specifically investigate the mechanisms underlying the associations between depression and physical health conditions. Plausible pathways by which depression may affect physical health include adverse health behaviors, which have been found to be more common in people with mental health such as depression. These include smoking, alcohol consumption, and a lack of physical activity. However, such behaviors are unlikely to explain everything since we accounted for these factors in our analysis. Biological pathways may include increased levels of systemic and neuroinflammation, genetic factors that are common to both depression and distinct physical illnesses, and changes in certain chemicals in the brain, such as monoamines.

 Mendoza, Depression Care360What are the practical implications of your findings for clinicians treating depression?

Dr Frank: Our study emphasizes the importance that healthcare professionals recognize both mental and physical health concerns in their patients. Addressing depression should be considered an integral component of disease prevention and holistic healthcare, and not an afterthought. Understanding that depression has the potential to intensify or trigger a variety of physical health problems is key. Clinicians should also be aware of the bidirectional relationships between depression and certain physical illnesses, as effectively treating one might improve the other. 

Indeed, there is some research showing that treating depression effectively may help to reduce the negative physical health consequences associated with the condition. This can involve a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. In addition to treating the underlying depression, managing physical health conditions and their risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, is also important in preventing further physical health complications. 

Mendoza, Depression Care360What future areas of inquiry do your findings point towards or that you might be pursuing?

Dr Frank: The mechanisms underlying the link between depression and various physical illness are still uncertain and require further testing. 

Philipp Frank, PhD, is a Research Fellow in Psychiatric Epidemiology at the Division of Psychiatry, University College London (UCL). He holds a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Psychology from University College Maastricht (UCM) and obtained an MSc in Health Psychology and a PhD in Psychiatric Epidemiology from UCL. Dr Frank's research focuses on unravelling the interplay between psychosocial, behavioral, and biological factors in the emergence of common mental health problems, particularly depression and dementia.

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