Mental Health-o-pedia

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4th November 2022



What’s Heart Got to Do with It?


CW/TW: Depression, Stress.


Our heart is tuned in to our mental, emotional, and physical states. Excitement and nervousness get the heart all worked up and causes the time variation between each heartbeat to be less whereas the time variation is higher once we slip into our zen mode resulting in the heart to beat slowly. HRV is the time variation between each of your heart beats (beat-to-beat) and indicates the impact of stress and fatigue on the body. In other words, the more relaxed and less stressed you are, the more variability in the time between each of your heartbeats. Additionally, researchers have found heart rate and HRV to be related with depression, emotional regulation  and behavioral flexibility.


What is Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

Heart rate is the number of heart beats per minute and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the subtle variation in a series of beat-to-beat measures of the heart.


Heart rate and heart rate variability are controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS consists of the sympathetic nervous system which causes the heart rate to increase when exposed to stress whereas the parasympathetic nervous system gets the increased heart rate back to normal when it’s time to relax.


Note: To get an idea of the HRV diagram.


How is it related to mental health?

  •     It was found that those with depression had both a higher heart rate and a lower heart rate variation.

               Note:  Sympathetic nervous system being more active than the parasympathetic nervous system resulting in an imbalance of ANS.

  •    Depressed patients were found to have a heart rate which was roughly 10 to 15 beats per minute higher than in controls.
  •    The heart rates of the participants with depression stayed elevated during the night, when it usually reduces.
  •    Even people who are physically healthy but depressed, have reduced heart rate variability.
  •     Additionally, when the heart rate data was tested into an artificial intelligence program, the software was able to correctly identify the participants with depression and those without it (Schiweck et al. 2021).


 What is the reliability of diagnosing depression based on HRV measurements?

Heart rate and HRV are not absolute measures for diagnosing someone with depression. However, it is one of the biomarkers which have been associated with depression. Thus, improving HRV is expected to aid in the treatment of depression.

Even though there are available modern devices to measure heart rate and HRV, when it comes to measuring for diagnosis purposes, the gold standard is analysis of ECG data by a doctor.

Heart rate and HRV are important physiological markers for overall health, and the body-mind connection. It indicates how well the body can prevent and recover from distressing states. Hence, take good care of your heart.




Hartmann R, Schmidt FM, Sander C and Hegerl U (2019) Heart Rate Variability as Indicator of Clinical State in Depression. Front. Psychiatry 9:735. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00735

Schiweck, Carmen & Lutin, Erika & De Raedt, Walter & Cools, Olivia & Coppens, Violette & Morrens, Manuel & Van Hoof, Chris & Vrieze, Elske & Claes, Stephan. (2021). Twenty-Four-Hour Heart Rate Is a Trait but Not State Marker for Depression in a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial With a Single Infusion of Ketamine. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 12. 696170. 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.696170.



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