An Overview of Depression and Anxiety

It is common for depression and anxiety to occur together, and it is important to know the signs and symptoms of each, to properly treat both conditions. Read about diagnosis, treatment methods of depression and anxiety, and more.

When a person has two conditions at the same time, they are referred to as “co-occurring” or “comorbid” conditions.

Close-up of worried man with eyes closed

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Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Having depression looks and feels different for each person who has it, but some signs and symptoms are common, including:

  • Persistent sad or “empty” moods
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

To be diagnosed with a major depression disorder, a person must have symptoms for at least two weeks.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

For people with anxiety disorders, the anxiety is often persistent and can get worse over time. The symptoms may interfere with their daily life.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive fear and worry
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cautious, avoidant behavior
  • Panic attacks

If you experience these symptoms for six months or longer, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Ways to Identify the Conditions

If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, one place to start is to speak with your primary care doctor. They can do an initial screening and may look for medical conditions that could be contributing to your symptoms. You will likely then be referred to a mental health professional for an official clinical diagnosis.

The mental health professional will use the standard reference manual for diagnosing recognized mental illnesses in the United States, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for depression and each anxiety disorder are different. A diagnosis might be harder to make when anxiety and depression overlap.

Treatment Methods for Depression and Anxiety

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and other factors, your treatment plan may involve medication, therapy, or a combination of approaches.

Medications

Depression and some anxiety disorders can be treated with antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

As well as antidepressants, other common classes of medications that are used to treat anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety medications—such as benzodiazepines—and beta-blockers.

Psychotherapy

Several types of psychotherapy can be used to treat depression and anxiety disorders.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a short-term form of psychotherapy that has been proven to be an effective form of treatment for both anxiety disorders and depression. It has also been shown to be an effective treatment for children and adolescents.

For anxiety disorders with specific fears or phobias, exposure therapy (ET) is often the first-line treatment.

What to Expect During Treatment

If you have been diagnosed with both anxiety and depression, it is important to seek treatment as early as possible. People with both disorders have a higher risk of being resistant to treatment, but early treatment increases the chance of success.

Medications

Some medications will work better for depression, while others work better for specific anxiety disorders. You should work closely with your doctor to identify which medications are best for you.

If you are not seeing an improvement in your symptoms, try to give it time. Medications such as antidepressants can take weeks to start working.

If you are still not feeling better after several weeks, let the doctor or mental health professional who prescribes your medication know. Together, you can decide if you need to change your dose, try a new medication, or start a different type of treatment.

Therapy

Most psychotherapy interventions can be conducted one on one with a therapist or with several people who have the same disorder (group therapy). Each intervention has a different goal.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): The goal is to teach a person different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to stressful circumstances.
  • Exposure therapy (ET): ET involves being exposed to the object or situation that triggers the fear or anxiety. Exposure is done repetitively, usually in a graduated fashion over a set period, until a person’s distress has significantly decreased.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you help support someone with depression and anxiety?

An important first step is educating yourself about what depression and anxiety feel like, as well as understanding the myths and misconceptions that surround these disorders. It is also important to take care of yourself as you are supporting someone with depression and anxiety.

What’s the difference between depression and anxiety?

Anxiety and depression are distinct mental health disorders. Each has its own set of symptoms.

For example, someone with anxiety may experience excessive fear or worry, while someone with depression may experience persistent feelings of hopelessness.

However, they are often interconnected. Someone with depression can experience anxiety symptoms as part of their mood disorder, and someone with a persistent anxiety disorder can develop depression over time.

What steps should you take to get help for depression and anxiety?

If you are concerned about your mental health, start by making an appointment with your primary care doctor. They might do an initial screening, but you will likely need a referral to a mental health professional for a clinical diagnosis.

A Word From Verywell

Depression and anxiety are distinct mental health conditions, but they often occur together. It can be challenging to diagnose and treat each condition effectively when a person has both, but it is possible.

The earlier the conditions are spotted and treatment is started, the better chances a person has of successfully managing them. There are several options for treatment, including medication and therapy. Sometimes, a person finds that a combination of treatments is best for them.

If you are concerned about your mental health, start by making an appointment with your doctor. They can refer you to a mental health professional who will be able to make a clinical diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

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Article Sources
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