Recent years have seen a significant improvement in the way we handle and understand mental illness. That’s hardly surprising seeing that, in modern America, around 46.4% of adults experience mental struggles, in large part depression and anxiety, at some stage in their lives.
As with any health-related concern, mental health is a broad and varied spectrum, and no case is the same. Patients can be afflicted by a wide range of conditions, each of which displays differently from person to person. Still, when we think about mental illness, most of us jump to now-familiar conditions like depression and anxiety.
These are two of the most common and widely experience mental health complaints across America and the rest of the world. In fact, anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of the population every single year, while around 11.3% of adults experience major depressive episodes at least once annually. It’s no wonder, then, that both of these conditions has gained a great deal more awareness of late. The question is, are we doing enough to combat and understand this widespread issue?
As research and understanding grow, more and more people are realizing that anxiety and depression don’t always stand apart from one another. While it isn’t always the case, these conditions can come hand in hand, and understanding that is vital for receiving proper treatment. To help untangle the connection between these two conditions, we’re going to consider how exactly they relate, and what that means for patients moving forward.
Understanding Each Condition
Before it’s possible to understand how anxiety and depression relate, it’s vital to understand precisely what characterizes each condition. While there are definite crossovers and connections, both depression and anxiety are severe and varied in their own rights. To prove that fact, we’re going to take a closer look at both here.
Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness in the United States to date, and it can have crippling consequences for those who experience it. It can take a variety of different forms, but most commonly involves either generalized or social anxiety disorders (SAD). The symptoms and severity of each can vary, but common signs of problems can include:
- Worrying to an excessive degree
- Feelings of restlessness
- Sleep disturbance
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
Conditions like these have a complicated network of causes, which can include personal stress, environmental factors, and ongoing generalized worries such as financial or career concerns. In the case of social anxiety, symptoms become worse leading up to or during social interactions/outings. If you find yourself identifying with these symptoms, check out our 5 Tips To Cope With Anxiety.
Symptoms of major depressive disorder are also rife within the U.S. population and can have crippling consequences for sufferers. Unlike the typical ‘down’ episodes that many people experience at stages in their life, major depressive episodes include severe symptoms such as:
- Generally depressed mood
- Lack of interest in daily activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Extreme changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness.
Like anxiety, there are many potential causes for depression, including stressful life events, faulty mood regulation, and even medications or underlying conditions.
Connecting The Two
Now that we have at least a basic understanding of both conditions, it’s time to consider how exactly they relate, and what happens when they do. In reality, it isn’t at all uncommon for anxiety to cause depression or vice versa. In fact, nearly 50% of depression diagnoses also include an anxiety disorder. But, where exactly does this extreme cross-over come from?
In reality, this isn’t an easy question to answer. As is the case with any mental illness, the exact reasons for this relation vary from patient to patient. Still, this crossover is prevalent in such a wide range of cases that there seem to be some consistent links between the two.
Links are perhaps easiest to draw when depression occurs from an anxiety disorder. This is because anxiety can lead to isolation and feelings of worthlessness, each of which can lead to the symptoms we more commonly associate with depression. In fact, a 2001 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found a strong link between early diagnosis of SAD and later development of depression.
Breaking Out Of The Cycle
That said, anxiety isn’t always the beginning of this unpleasant cycle. Clinical depression has also been linked to the development of various disorders, anxiety included. This can often be as a result of withdrawal from society, and also a fear of misunderstandings around symptoms.
Ultimately, this is something of a chicken and egg situation. In some cases, patients find that both anxiety and depression seem to arise and develop together. Equally, many patients with anxiety don’t realize the issue until depression pushes them to seek treatment. As such, precise numbers here are tricky to come by. One thing’s sure; crossovers are rife, and patients must realize that so they can develop the best possible understanding of their condition and the treatments available.
When experiencing both conditions together, patients may struggle to deal with intrusive feelings of worthlessness and worry. What’s more, treatment may be harder to come by due to the restrictions put in place by anxiety. This can lead to a worsening of all symptoms and is not something that any patient should have to deal with alone.
As a testament to how much anxiety and depression have in common, many of the treatments on offer also have a great deal in common. Most typically, a psychologist will recommend a mixture of medication and talking therapy for both conditions.
In most cases, medications prescribed for both disorders include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) . Therapy crossovers are also rife here, with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) providing substantial results for both conditions by altering harmful thought patterns. Equally, newer therapies such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) offer acceptance and mindfulness strategies to reduce symptoms.
As well as further strengthening the link between the two conditions, these treatment crossovers should provide some reassurance to patients who fear they’re experiencing both anxiety and depression. In fact, many cases of anxiety go undiagnosed even after initial consultations, yet treatments still manage to combat them.
That said, not all treatments for the two conditions crossover, so recognition is still incredibly beneficial. Making a note of all aspects of your symptoms and experiences can undoubtedly help a psychologist offer the most comprehensive treatment for you.
Understanding That The Link Isn’t Always There
As you can tell from the points already discussed, anxiety and depression are most definitely related. That said, it’s vital to note that the two conditions don’t exclusively go hand in hand. As much as recognizing the links can help towards the correct treatment plan, so too can knowing what these conditions look like when they stand alone.
Symptoms can crossover even in cases of either standalone depression or anxiety, as you can see from the listings above. This can make way for confusion, but in standard cases, there are also some distinct differences between the two issues. While studies have found a prevalent and robust link between them, scientists do state that not every diagnosis is connected in these ways.
Most notably, people with depression can seem flat in their lack of attention, while those with anxiety may be too keyed up to concentrate. In the same way, people with SAD withdraw out of fear, while those with depression do so because they lack joy in social situations. These distinctions are vital in both recognizing each illness in its own right, and even better understanding how they impact each other.
The ‘Knock-On’ Effect of the relation between Depression and Anxiety
In cases where anxiety does lead to depression or vice versa, it’s also vital to note that there are other risk factors at play. A 2001 study in Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: Psychotherapy Casebook found that individuals experiencing both anxiety and depression were open to knock-on effects such as:
- Drug use
- Function impairments (primarily occupational and social)
- Risk of suicide
- Potentially lessened responses to treatment
These type of symptoms tend to have a spiraling effect: one struggles with depression and/or anxiety, so they struggle to be social. Then due to that decline in friendships and relationships, they become more anxious & depressed. This might cause them to turn to substance use, which in turn is behavior they might be judged negatively for, which once again further isolates them socially. It’s important to not pile on to these problems and instead address them in meaningful ways, which ties into Dr. Kelli Wrights expertise in treating habitual substance use our article that discusses why drug users should be enabled.
Heights Harm Reduction
Here at Heights Harm Reduction, we have extensive success in dealing with depression and anxiety, including when the two cross over in the ways discussed above. By booking an appointment with Dr. Wright, you can set yourself on the right track to get the help you need. Dr. Wright has owned & operated her practice out of the Houston area since 2003, and specializes in anxiety treatment & therapy.
Her treatment approach incorporates Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), as touched upon briefly above. By helping patients to both accept and change difficulties using mindfulness-based techniques, this form of psychotherapy can be a massive help for addressing both anxiety and depression in turn, as well as exploring how you experience the two conditions together.
Seeking treatment is never easy, but it is vital for achieving the lifestyle and coping mechanisms that you deserve. If you’re worried anxiety and depression are affecting you either together or separately, don’t hesitate to book a session with us at 713-868-4372 today.