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Youth Depression Linked With Increased Risk of Disease, Early Death

December 14, 2020

Children and adolescents diagnosed with depression are at increased risk of subsequently developing a wide range of diseases as well as experiencing early death, according to a population-based observational study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Sarah Bergen
Sarah E. Bergen, PhD (Photo courtesy Karolinska Institutet)

“Our study shows that children and teenagers diagnosed with depression have a significantly higher risk of premature death, self-harm, and suffering from other diseases later in life,” said researcher Sarah E. Bergen, PhD, of the Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden. “It underscores how important it is that these children and teenagers receive the help they need and that medical personnel monitor for subsequent psychiatric and somatic diseases.”

The study included 1.5 million girls and boys in Sweden. Among them, 2.5% were diagnosed with depression between the ages 5 and 19 years. At the end of follow-up, participants were aged between 17 and 31 years. Researchers looked at the risks of subsequent morbidity and mortality for youth diagnosed with depression compared with those without a depression diagnosis.

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Children and adolescents with depression had a higher risk of 66 out of a total of 69 medical conditions, including sleep disorders, type 2 diabetes, viral hepatitis, and kidney and liver diseases, according to the study. Additionally, youth with depression had a significantly higher risk of certain injuries, especially girls and self-harm injuries, and a nearly 6-fold higher risk of early death compared with youth without depression.

Such associations were partly explained by coexisting psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and substance use disorder, researchers reported. But even after adjusting for psychiatric comorbidity, relative risks persisted, although at decreased levels.

Marica Leone
Marica Leone, BSc (Photo courtesy Karolinska Institutet)

“We need more research to understand the causality between depression and other diseases,” said study first author Marica Leone, BSc, a PhD candidate at Karolinska Institutet.

“Currently, we cannot say whether depression leads to an increased risk of negative health effects or whether there are other underlying factors that lead to increased risks for both depression and the diseases examined in this study,” she said. “Therefore, it is important to investigate how these processes affect each other and whether we, through discovery of these disease mechanisms, can find targets for intervention and treatment to improve overall health.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Leone M, Kuja-Halkola R, Leval A, et al. Association of youth depression with subsequent somatic diseases and premature death. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 December 9;[Epub ahead of print].

Youth depression tied to higher risk of 66 diseases and premature death [press release]. Solna, Sweden: Karolinska Institutet; December 9, 2020.

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