Anxiety and depression are two different conditions but where there is one, there is usually the other. Studies show that up to 85% of those suffering from major depression were found to suffer also from generalized anxiety disorder and 35% of them had panic disorder. This comorbidity makes the conditions more severe and the treatment process longer as there are essentially two (or maybe more) disorders.
Depression is more than “the blues” or an occasional “down” feeling – this is considered a perfectly natural reaction to life when it gets tough or doesn’t go the way it is supposed to. It becomes a problem when these feelings become a way of life. Depression is a chronic condition that is not in response to a problem; depression becomes the problem.
Αnd what a problem it is. According to the World Health Organisation, depression affects about 121 million people worldwide. The disorder affects nearly 20 million people in America alone while statistics in Australia conclude that everyone in their lifetime will be affected by depression – either their own or someone close to them( Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1998.). Even more shocking is the fact that pre-schoolers represent the fastest growing market for anti-depressants. Over a million 4- and 5-year-olds have been diagnosed with clinical depression. (Psychiatric Services). And the list goes on.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. While the bad news is that relatively few depression and anxiety sufferers seek help, the good news is that they are highly treatable conditions with a success rate of about 80% (WHO statistics). There are different treatments available so it is a matter of finding a treatment tha works for each individual. Each treatment process must be individually tailored precisely because the causes are unique to each individual.
Diet and Lifestyle Treatment of Mental Disorders
The easiest ’cause’ to detect and modify is that of diet and lifestyle. This is not to say that everyone who has a poor diet will suffer from depression and anxiety but it has been shown that many depressed people lack vitamins and minerals which make and process neurotransmitters in the body. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that dictate how the body and brain should react to different situations.
Substance abuse is often common to people who suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. Nature did not design the body to cope with alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and other drugs and so the overuse of them suppresses bodily functions and processes they should not suppress and activates others at the wrong time. A classic example of this is panic attacks which many find are often worse after a night on the town.
Similarly, lifestyle choices such as late nights, lack of sleep and lack of exercise are endemic in those suffering from anxiety disorders and depression. Only 20 to 30 minutes of exercise is sufficient to release ‘feel good’ hormones like serotonin and endorphins which are nature’s own anti-depressants.
Changing factors like these and adopting a mood-boosting diet will alleviate the biological causes and create better conditions within the brain to deal with the psychological ones.
Psychotherapies for Depression and Anxiety Disorders
The most popular of these ‘talk’ therapies is cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of therapy is intended to change cognition, or the way knowledge is acquired through reasoning, intuition and perception; the therapy is also intended to change the behavior based on that knowledge.
Another therapy that’s utilized for patients with depression and anxiety is psychodynamic therapy, which assumes that depression and anxiety are caused by unresolved issues (conscious or subconcious). It’s said that these unresolved issues often originate in childhood. Interpersonal therapy is more concerned with what is going on in the patient’s life in the present and particularly, as its name implies, interpersonal interactions.
Anxiety and Depression Medication
There are often heated debates about whether medication is necessary for the treatment of depression and anxiety. There are some who fervently believe that as these conditions are caused in part by chemical imbalances, then drugs are needed to correct that imbalance. Others prescribe to the theory that treatment can be effectively based around psychotherapies and lifestyle changes.
There is a middle road which combines the two with medication being prescribed as a stop gap which then gives the other therapies room to operate. Anxiety and depression drugs can be addictive and side effects such as lethargy and fatigue are factors which need to be taken into consideration.
Is There a Cure for Depression and Anxiety?
Treating comorbid depression and anxiety is more of challenge and treatment will take longer than if only one of the conditions were present. However, the success rate is encouraging and, once the right therapist and therapy is found, then the only mitigating factor is the patient’s willingness to see the process through. It won’t be easy but then living with depression and anxiety is no piece of cake either.