Lack of Close Relationships May Increase Cardiac Stress in Women with Depression

Psychologists have long been concerned that the lack of social support in women with depression may lead to serious physical health consequences, including cardiovascular disease. Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Jill M. Cyranowski, Tara L. Hofkens, Holly A. Swartz, and Peter J. Gianaros, wanted to know if these women were at greater risk as well. “Individuals with depression have been shown to report less supportive social networks, more negative social interactions, and greater levels of marital strain than their non-depressed counterparts,” said the team. They recruited 38 women ranging in age from 20 to 40 years old, half of whom met the criteria for depression. All of the women were given physical exams before they were enrolled in the study that was aimed at creating situations that would induce the release of oxytocin.

The women were all measured for heart rate and blood pressure before they were asked to complete two tasks. The first task required the women to focus on a relationship that caused them to feel love or infatuation. The second task, commonly used to cause cardiovascular reactivity, was a speech task in which the women were given two minutes to create a speech defending their innocence against fabricated charges of shoplifting. Throughout the tasks, the blood pressure and heart rate of the women were monitored and recorded. The findings revealed that the non-depressed women exhibited less stress in the speech task after they had imagined a close relationship. “In contrast, women with depression who first thought about a close relationship displayed elevated blood pressure over the course of a subsequent stress task,” said the researchers. They concluded, “This novel finding may reflect heightened levels of social distress commonly reported among women with depression, and highlights the potential importance of social factors as modulators of cardiovascular risk factors in depressed women.”

Cyranowski, Jill M., Tara L. Hofkens, Holly A. Swartz, and Peter J. Gianaros. “Thinking about a Close Relationship Differentially Impacts Cardiovascular Stress Responses among Depressed and Nondepressed Women.” Health Psychology 30.3 (May 2011): 276-84. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • maggie W

    maggie W

    August 4th, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    So much more than men, women simply thrive on having close relationships in their lives. I think that most men really could not care less if they do not have those strong friendships, but I think that they really mean something to women and obviously play a huge role in having overall good health for them too. It is so nice to be able to relive some of the days stresses with a friend and know that she is not going to judge, but will just listen and help you unwind.

  • CODY


    August 4th, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    It’s interesting how our relationship with people can have an effect on our health.I’d like to see the results for men too,just for comparison.After all,women are said to be more emotional and feel the need for close relationships more than men.

  • John Craine

    John Craine

    August 8th, 2011 at 4:44 AM

    I would love to know how the numbers stack up for men in thus same kind of situation. Do you really think that there is amy less stress on men when they go through depression without the comfort of a close friend? I would venture that the answer is no.

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