Everyone feels anxious or unhappy from time to time. But there is a significant difference between garden variety anxiety and depression and mental health conditions that carry these labels.
Anxiety disorders and major depression are serious medical conditions that can leave victims unable to cope or function on a daily basis. Unless you’ve experienced them directly, you can’t imagine how overwhelming and life-altering they can be.
Few of us are prepared for these disorders when they do develop. Consequently, we may have a hard understanding what is happening — or why it is happening — when anxiety and/or depression come crashing down upon us.
For the benefit of victims and their families, here we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about depression and anxiety.
What is depression?
True blue depression is an empty void, a zone of existence where hopelessness and despair are constant companions. Depression leaves you without motivation to do even the simplest things, and it is this aspect of clinical depression that makes it debilitating, disabling and devastating.
What is chronic depression?
Unfortunately, clinical depression seldom (if ever) clears up on its own. When depression becomes chronic, it can be safely classified as a true mental health disorder, and without treatment and intervention it is likely to continue indefinitely.
Am I depressed?
If you lack energy and motivation and have lost your ability to find enjoyment in life, there is a good chance you’re suffering from depression. But you won’t know for sure unless you consult with a psychiatrist or psychologist and receive a diagnosis.
What is anxiety and what are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety in general is a fairly normal stress response. But when fear, worry and nervousness become chronic, resulting in multiple “fight-or-flight” -type physical responses out of all proportion to the situations that cause them, these are signs that indicate an anxiety disorder has developed.
Are there different types of anxiety disorders?
There are seven categories of anxiety disorder:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Agoraphobia (fear of leaving the safety of home)
- Phobias (i.e., fear of heights, enclosed spaces, insects, water, etc.)
Only a trained mental health professional can diagnose these conditions, which have distinctive features but all cause symptoms consistent with severe anxiety (rapid heartbeat, dizziness, breathing difficulties, sweating, dry mouth, intense fear of fainting, inability to think or concentrate and so on).
Are depression and anxiety disorders interrelated?
Depression and anxiety disorders are by far the most common mental health disorders and are frequently diagnosed together. While each is a distinctive condition, both thrive on continuously negative, pessimistic thinking and one may easily emerge as a “side effect” of the other. This is especially true for anxiety disorder sufferers, who often develop depression following years of chronic tension.
It is known that depression and anxiety share neurological pathways, and that certain medications are useful against both types of disorders. The two conditions are interrelated, but that relationship cannot be reduced to simple cause and effect.
What causes depression and anxiety disorders?
Mental health professionals agree that some combination of heredity, brain chemistry, personality, family experience and a history of trauma play a role in the development of both depression and anxiety disorders.
But depression and anxiety disorders are not so much effects of dysfunction as they are a response to it. They are coping mechanisms designed to protect sufferers from dangers both real and imagined. They are a reaction to trouble just as much as they are a cause of it, and psychotherapists working with victims of depression or severe anxiety will try various strategies to help their patients discover the root causes of their mental health disorders.
What are the best evidence-based treatments for depression and anxiety?
Psychotherapy combined with antidepressant medication is usually prescribed for men and women suffering from depression and/or severe anxiety. But pharmaceutical medications often have troubling side effects and will not work for everyone.
Alternative forms of treatment for depression are quite effective in many cases, although they are seldom prescribed separately from a comprehensive psychotherapy program. Popular forms of evidence-based alternative treatment include:
- Herbal remedies or supplements
- Healthy diet and exercise
- Massage therapy
- Tai chi
- Art, drama or music therapy
Each of these practices is designed to promote psychological and emotional equilibrium, which not surprisingly is an effective antidote to depression and anxiety.
If I think I might be suffering from depression and/or an anxiety disorder, what should I do?
First, you should make an appointment with your physician, who can give you a complete examination and either discover or rule out any other explanation for your symptoms of anxiety or depression. Assuming no such explanations are found, your next step is to make an appointment with a mental health specialist for a full evaluation.
Once I’ve been officially diagnosed with major depression or an anxiety disorder, what is my long-term prognosis?
Left untreated, depression and anxiety can become chronic and sufferers may eventually become suicidal. But both conditions are extremely amenable to treatment, as long as treatment programs are customized for each individual and victims are cooperative and engaged in the healing process.
Depression and anxiety cannot be wished or willed away. But they can be managed intelligently and in some cases overcome completely. No two cases of anxiety or depression are exactly alike, but mental health professionals know this and they will work with you to create a recovery plan that addresses all of your individual needs.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)