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Why Mood Matters

Monday, September 30, 2013


Note: This was cross-posted by our partners at UCSF’s Health eHeart study. Sign up today to contribute to the fight against heart disease!

health eheart question

A New York Times article by Columbia’s Dr. Eric Kandel makes a convincing argument for the “New Science of Mind,” which posits that our minds are directly connected with the biology of the brain.  Along with, we believe that our minds are also connected with the biology of the body. Understanding our mental health, not only our physical vital signs, is critical.

This may not seem intuitive at first — it’s easy to understand how an objective physical measure like blood pressure or heart rate impacts a condition like heart disease.  It can be harder to make the connection between a “soft” question about something like mood and a chronic condition. However, a new body of research is convincingly making the case that mental and physical health are closely linked.  Understanding mood change could very well help us understand why some people develop a chronic condition, or respond better to treatment.

In particular, a number of studies looking at the impact of depression and anxiety that are co-morbid (or present with) chronic conditions have found a real connection to quality and cost of care.  In general, people living with chronic conditions have rates of co-morbid depression ranging from 25-50%.1 This translates to a real personal and economic impact — undiagnosed patients are less likely to be adherent to treatment protocols, which can lead to costly complications.

For example, research has shown elevated levels of depression after diagnosis in cancer patients (and their spouses).  Similarly, people living with diabetes are at high risk for depression (as well as stress and anxiety).  For heart disease, it’s a similar relationship, with both a higher prevalence of depression (40 to 60%) among heart disease patients, as well as a possible biological rationale for that number in how our bodies react to stress.2

And the relationship goes both ways. In addition to chronic conditions leading to elevated levels of depression, depression can also impact whether someone may develop a chronic condition.  According to a recent study, “depressed older adults (defined as those over age 50) were more than twice as likely to develop vascular dementia and 65 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than similarly aged people who weren’t depressed.”3 These statistics hold for conditions like heart disease, where “30 to 50 percent of patients who suffer clinical depression are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”4

Given this clear relationship between mental and physical health, how do we measure something that seems so subjective?  Self-report questions can be a good starting point.’s research, done at MIT Media Lab shows that you can use self-report answers to train a model to find patterns in sensor data — like the movement and communication data from your phone — that suggests when someone might be feeling down.

So that’s why we ask mood and related questions — to help us better understand the relationship between mental and physical health.  With your help, we can make providing the best care for both mental and physical well-being part of how we treat chronic, and often go untreated.  In addition to the psychic cost of conditions.

Want to get involved? You can sign up for UCSF’s Health eHeart study and contribute to our understanding of CHF today. Or join the conversation on twitter at @ginger_io and @Health_eHeart.

Looking for more information? If you or a loved one is currently struggling with co-morbid depression, this booklet from the Behavioral Diabetes Institute is a good source of information.