Anxiety disorders and depression often go hand in hand. Approximately half of all people with an anxiety disorder also suffer from depression, and two-thirds of people with depression have a co-existing anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (n.d.). The high frequency of co-occurrence for these two conditions strongly suggests they are linked.
One reason for this link may be the significant overlap in the risk factors and causes for the two conditions. When comparing symptoms, however, the link is more complicated. Some symptoms are strikingly similar (such as having a negative outlook on life), while others could be considered opposites.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders and Depression
Anxiety disorders and depression are both considered mood disorders. They affect the way a person feels, which influences thoughts and behavior.
An anxiety disorder’s effect on mood varies somewhat, depending on the type of disorder. Generally, however, an individual with an anxiety disorder experiences intense worry and fear along with persistent, unwanted negative thoughts. These feelings can cause distraction and difficulty accomplishing tasks. Physical symptoms may include agitation, muscle tension and difficulty sleeping. Behaviorally, the individual may frequently avoid situations that increase anxiety and stress.
As with any anxiety disorder, people with depression may also feel agitated, tense and have difficulty sleeping. They can have difficulty focusing on completing a task and may display avoidance behaviors, just as anxiety disorder sufferers often do.
However, people with depression usually have strong feelings of hopelessness and overwhelming sadness, which frequently lead to slowness of movement and speech. Depression may also cause people to sleep too much rather than not enough. These depression symptoms are notably different from the jumpy, excitable behavior associated with many anxiety disorders.
Causes and Risk Factors of Anxiety Disorders and Depression
Anxiety disorders and depression share many of the same risk factors and causes, specifically:
- Family history of mood disorders
- Gender (females are at higher risk than males)
- Lower levels of certain brain chemicals associated with mood (e.g. serotonin)
- Stressful life events.
The overlap in causes of the two disorders is reflected in their highly similar treatment approaches. Both disorders are generally treatable with antidepressant medications and psychotherapy.
Are Anxiety Disorders and Depression One Condition?
The symptoms between anxiety disorders and depression are related but different, while the causes are nearly indistinguishable. Because of this link, some psychologists are starting to question if the two conditions may actually represent different sets of symptoms that are part of a single disorder. At this time, anxiety disorders and depression are classified as different diseases. However, research into this question is ongoing, and a better understanding of why they co-occur so often may be just around the corner.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America. (n.d.). Depression. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Depression (major depression). Retrieved August 11, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175.
Nichols, M. (2008). Anxiety and depression: Two sides of the same coin? Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://anxietypanichealth.com/2008/09/23/anxiety-and-depression-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/.
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2008). Anxiety disorders – causes. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/mentalhealth/ancauses.htm.