Psychological distress is associated with increased mortality from several major causes in a dose-response pattern, even at low levels of distress

This study, which was published in the BMJ in 2012, set out to quantify the link between lower, subclinically symptomatic, levels of psychological distress and cause-mortality in a large scale, population based study.

The study comprised 68,222 people from general population samples of adults aged 35 years and over, free of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and living in private households in England at study baseline.

The authors found a dose-response association between psychological distress across the full range of severity and an increased risk of mortality (age and sex adjusted hazard ratio for General Health Questionnaire scores of 1-3 v score 0: 1.20, 95% confidence interval 1.13 to 1.27; scores 4-6: 1.43, 1.31 to 1.56; and scores 7-12: 1.94, 1.66 to 2.26; P<0.001 for trend). This association remained after adjustment for physical comorbidity plus behavioural and socioeconomic factors. A similar association was found for cardiovascular disease deaths and deaths from external causes. Cancer death was only associated with psychological distress at higher levels.

DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e4933