Major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and their comorbidity: Associations with cortisol in the Vietnam Experience Study

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OBJECTIVES: The aim of these analyses was to examine the association of cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), and the cortisol:DHEAS ratio with the diagnoses of major depressive disorder (MDD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), and their comorbidity. DESIGN: This was a cross-sectional study. METHODS: Participants were 4256 Vietnam era US army veterans. From military service files, telephone interviews, and a medical examination, occupational, socio-demographic, and health data were collected. One-year prevalence of MDD and GAD was determined through a diagnostic interview schedule based on the DSM-IV criteria. Contemporary morning fasted cortisol and DHEAS concentrations were determined. Analyses of covariance were run, first with adjustment for age and then additionally adjusting for a range of candidate confounders. RESULTS: In fully adjusted analyses, there was evidence of lower basal cortisol levels in individuals with MDD and co-morbid MDD and GAD than those with GAD alone or no diagnosis. CONCLUSION: This suggests that MDD and its comorbidity can also be characterised by low as well as high cortisol levels. A profitable line of future research might be to examine cortisol and DHEAS levels in more representative samples including older participants and women with and without MDD, GAD, and other psychiatric diagnoses.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)919-923
Number of pages5
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011