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The Link Between Depression and Other Mental Illnesses

Clinical depression has been linked to other mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. Together, these conditions affect millions of Americans. 

Fortunately, these disorders are treatable, and those affected can lead normal, productive lives.

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What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, but when it takes on a life of its own it becomes an unhealthy, generalized reaction that affects the body and mind. Symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, aches and pains, and muscle tension.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 18% of adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder in any given year, and anxiety disorders are prevalent in 25% of children ages 13-18. Like depression, anxiety is thought to arise from a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

Although anxiety is not always present in depressive disorders, most of the time it lurks beneath the surface. But true depression differs from an anxiety disorder in that a depressed mood is typically its most obvious symptom, whereas anxiety is the primary sign of an authentic anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder

Previously, two other conditions -- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had been classified by the American Psychiatric Association as being subtypes of anxiety disorders.  However, in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), each of these conditions is now classified as its own separate type of disorder.

Anxiety disorders affect women twice as frequently as they do men. And many studies show that people with depression often experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

An anxiety disorder that's left untreated can cause unnecessary suffering and impairment for both the person who has one and the person's family.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are filled with greatly exaggerated worry and tension -- even though there is usually nothing to worry about. These individuals anticipate disaster and ruminate about their health, their finances, their work, their relationships and family problems.

To make a diagnosis of GAD, excessive worrying and anxiety have to occur more days than not for at least 6 months. The person is unable to control the worry and may have other symptoms including:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep disturbance

This anxiety disorder is not related to substance abuse or a medical condition. It occurs independently.

What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is another type of generalized anxiety disorder that often co-exists with depression. Panic disorder affects 6 million Americans every year, most often young adults.

Panic disorder involves the sudden onset of overwhelming fear and terror. The person may also experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Choking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweaty palms
  • Tachycardia (an unusually rapid heart beat)
  • Trembling

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