Depression and Multimorbidity

This project will provide a deeper understanding of the longitudinal and likely bidirectional relationship between depression and the trajectory of accrual of multiple physical health problems.

Chain of birds breaking free


There are increasing numbers of people who have multimorbidity, which means living with multiple physical and/or mental health conditions. Increasing multimorbidity has a number of causes. People are living longer and are more likely to survive life-threatening illness than in the past (for example, anyone who survives a heart attack will then have to live with chronic heart disease). Living longer and surviving life-threatening illness are of course good things, but multimorbidity poses challenges to health services and research which often focus on single conditions. We need to better understand how people develop multiple conditions, and that is the focus of this research.

The combination of physical conditions with depression is very common. About one in five people with a physical condition have depression, and this combination is associated with worse physical and mental health outcomes. It is therefore important to understand how physical conditions and depression are related. Existing research has often just looked at people at one point in time. This means that it isn't possible to know if depression causes physical disease, or if physical disease causes depression, or both. Existing research also does not always account for things which might be related to both physical disease and depression such as heavy drinking or lack of exercise.

The aim of this research is to examine the relationship between physical disease and depression using data for half a million middle-aged people followed up for around 10 years as part of the UK Biobank study.  This project has an advisory group including representatives affected by the conditions being researched.

Full Title

Understanding the relationship between depression and trajectories of physical multimorbidity accrual: longitudinal analysis of UK Biobank data


Medical Research Council (MRC)


30 months from August 2019. No-cost extension agreed.



Key people

Principal Investigator

Professor Bruce Guthrie, Centre for Population Health Sciences, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh  (Bruce Guthrie's online profile)


Professor Cathie Sudlow, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh  (Cathie Sudlow's online profile)

Professor John Norrie, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh (John Norrie's online profile)

Professor Stewart Mercer, Professor of Primary Care and Multimorbidity, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh  (Stewart Mercer's online profile)

Dr Caroline Jackson, Chancellor’s Fellow, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh (Caroline Jackson's online profile)

Dr Daniel Morales, University of Dundee, Population Health and Genomics  (Daniel Morales' online profile)

Dr Daniel Smith, University of Glasgow, College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences  (Daniel Smith's online profile)


Ms Kelly Fleetwood  (Kelly Fleetwood's online profile)

Dr Regina Prigge  (Regina Prigge's online profile)


Image by Romolo Tavani/Getty Images