Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/6/2021
Anxiety and depression are two very similar mental health disorders—so similar, in fact, that the average person may mistake the symptoms of one for the symptoms of another.
Anxious people tend to worry, and often, one of the main worries from ongoing (and exhausting) anxiety is whether it could lead to depression.
Is that how this works? Well, maybe.
The medical community still has a lot of unanswered questions about the nature of both of these mental health disorders, but we do know some key facts that suggest a link between anxiety and depression.
We’ll get into that momentarily, but first, we need to take you to school on the basics.
Depression, put simply, is a mood disorder — just like anxiety.
There are several , including Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects people in the colder, drearier winter months.
Long-term depression is called persistent depressive disorder, and it can last two years or longer.
On the other end of the spectrum, major depression is a more intense but shorter period of depression of at least two weeks of depression side effects.
Symptoms of depression include loss of interest in day to day activities, anger, exhaustion, irritability, reckless behavior and substance abuse — not to mention suicidal thoughts and a generally depressed mood.
Biological, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can all theoretically trigger depression, though scientists still aren’t positive about what, exactly, causes depression.
People suffering from anxiety may experience occasional panic attacks (panic disorder is included under the anxiety disorder umbrella), and panic sufferers may likewise experience anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety, like depression symptoms, are typically felt for at least a few weeks for a diagnosis to be appropriate — one bad day does not constitute an anxiety problem.
Fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping and restlessness are all anxiety symptoms, as is feeling on edge or wound-up, or difficulty concentrating or uncontrollable worry.
So, can one mood disorder cause another? The short answer is: it’s entirely possible.
Here are some numbers to consider.
Between 10 percent and 20 percent of adults visit their healthcare provider for depression or anxiety related issues.
Of those people, more than half suffer from comorbidity—a simultaneous disorder—of the other option.
In other words, half of the people seeking help for anxiety may have depression, and half of the people seeking help for depression may have anxiety.
What we don’t know is whether one tends to lead to another more frequently. It’s a sort of chicken-and-egg problem—research is still in its early years in trying to determine whether one tends to cause the other.
Unfortunately, one thing we do know is that patients with both depression and anxiety tend to have a more severe set of symptoms. And the presence of both disorders not only slows the recovery rate, but tends to lead to more frequent recurrence of one or both disorders once patients have healed.
So to conclude: this is a bad news, bad news scenario. All we know is that having both is worse than having just one.
Happily (and here’s the good news), there are medications that are effective at treating both disorders simultaneously.
Treatment for depression will typically include antidepressants (duh), which work to alleviate symptoms by balancing the serotonin levels in your brain. This gives your brain the tools it needs to regulate your moods.
Conveniently, the go-to solution for treating anxiety these days is actually prescription antidepressants, which can frequently offer anti-anxiety benefits, on- or off-label.
The default prescription tends to be a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
Other antidepressant medications are generally only considered if SSRIs fail to work for a specific patient. SSRIs alternatives may include:
A cousin of SSRIs, another treatment for depression and anxiety are SNRIs, which regulate a brain chemical called norepinephrine, which is both a neurotransmitter and a stress hormone.
Pregabalin is primarily used to treat nerve pain, but it’s also approved for — and sometimes used in — the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.
Benzodiazepines are sedatives that relieve anxiety symptoms, but aren’t effective treatments for the chemical imbalance itself.
They’re effective, but dependency risk dramatically increases after just a few weeks.
Pills aren’t the only way out of the anxiety or depression holes. In fact, they’re only part of the big-picture solution.
Depression can be treated with a variety of therapies, including medication, lifestyle modifications and various forms of psychotherapy.
Therapy isn’t a cure for mood disorders, but it does create a foundation for talking about the anxious and depressive symptoms and building a plan for coping with them. Anxiety disorders generally respond well to therapy, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT helps mental disorder sufferers to recognize bad thinking patterns that may let anxiety or depression stay in the driver’s seat, when you want control back.
We’ve talked more about CBT in our guide, What Is Psychotherapy & How Does It Work?.
Our guide to coping with anxiety explores treatment options on the market today, but for now, there are a few we’d like to highlight, including therapy.
A healthcare professional may also consider lifestyle, career or relationship effects, and suggest changes for things that may be contributing to issues for you. You may also be asked to address medical conditions, diet, exercise and substance abuse to alleviate symptoms.
People with depression and anxiety know these are hard mental health conditions to live with, and they’re certainly not easy to treat. But that treatment and coping gets profoundly easier when you take the proper first step, and enlist the help of a healthcare professional to guide your treatment.
A mental health professional will be able to do more than prescribe medications. They’ll be able to recommend other effective treatments, assess comorbidities that may be exacerbating your conditions and make referrals to specialists like therapists.
If you’re taking recommendations, let us make another one: talk to someone.
Anxiety and depression can both feel helpless and overwhelming. Eventually, people can begin to accept that it won’t get better. But it can — with the proper help.
Get the help you deserve now; consider scheduling a telepsychiatry evaluation today, or if you’re not ready for that, check out our online counseling offering.
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