Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up

J Psychosom Res. 2013 Oct;75(4):381-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.07.014. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


Objective: Suppression of emotion has long been suspected to have a role in health, but empirical work has yielded mixed findings. We examined the association between emotion suppression and all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality over 12 years of follow-up in a nationally representative US sample.

Methods: We used the 2008 General Social Survey-National Death Index (GSS-NDI) cohort, which included an emotion suppression scale administered to 729 people in 1996. Prospective mortality follow up between 1996 and 2008 of 111 deaths (37 by cardiovascular disease, 34 by cancer) was evaluated using Cox proportional hazards models adjusted for age, gender, education, and minority race/ethnicity.

Results: The 75th vs. 25th percentile on the emotional suppression score was associated with hazard ratio (HR) of 1.35 (95% Confidence Interval [95% CI]=1.00, 1.82; P=.049) for all-cause mortality. For cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality, the HRs were 1.70 (95% CI=1.01, 2.88, P=.049) and 1.47 (95% CI=.87, 2.47, P=.148) respectively.

Conclusions: Emotion suppression may convey risk for earlier death, including death from cancer. Further work is needed to better understand the biopsychosocial mechanisms for this risk, as well as the nature of associations between suppression and different forms of mortality.

Keywords: All-cause mortality; Cancer mortality; Cardiovascular disease mortality; Emotion; General Social Survey; Suppression.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / immunology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Risk
  • Surveys and Questionnaires