Anxiety Disorder Is as Common and Debilitating as Depression

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 8, 1999 (New York) -- Anxiety can have as much of a negative impact on an individual's work and social life as depression, researchers report in the December issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

In two large surveys, anxiety disorder was found to be "consequential in and of itself" while a diagnosis of both anxiety and depression was associated with a greater degree of problems related to ability to work and interaction with family and friends than either depression or anxiety alone, according to Ronald C. Kessler, PhD, and colleagues from the department of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

In the National Comorbidity Survey, the over 8,000 participants were between the ages of 15 and 54 years and were interviewed face-to-face in their home. In the other survey, the United States Survey, over 3,000 participants, between the ages of 25 and 74 years, were interviewed by phone and followed with mail-in questionnaires.

Overall, 58% of respondents with generalized anxiety disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey and 70% of respondents with generalized anxiety disorder in the United States Survey also had major depression. While almost 18% of respondents with major depression in the National Comorbidity Survey and 16% of respondents with major depression in the United States Survey also had generalized anxiety disorder, Kessler and colleagues report. The overall prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey and the United States survey was about 3% for both, while the prevalence of major depression was 10% and 14%, respectively.

Of those who met the criteria for both depression and anxiety, 22% reported not being able to work on six or more days per month compared with 10% of those with depression alone and 11% of those with generalized anxiety alone in the National Comorbidity Survey. In the United States Survey, 32% of participants with both depression and anxiety reported being impaired on six or more work days compared with 13% of those with depression alone and 8% of those with anxiety alone. In both surveys, participants with either depression or anxiety alone had more work and social impairment than participants with neither disorder. Questions related to social impairment included whether the person felt that family and friends cared about them, how much the person was able to open up and talk to family and friends about problems, to what degree the person could relax with family and friends, and to what degree the person felt that family and friends made demands on them or made them feel tense, angry, or criticized.

A psychiatrist who spoke with WebMD about the study says she is not surprised by the findings that anxiety causes significant problems with work and social activities. "As clinicians we focus less on the anxiety disorders in people than on depressive disorders," says Mae Sokol, MD, of Menninger psychiatric hospital in Topeka, KS. "We need this kind of data because we can't just go by clinical judgments alone, so in that sense it's a very important study."

Sokol says the evaluation of social functioning is an important contribution to the literature. "Some people may not meet criteria for a major diagnosis as far as their psychological functioning from what you can get from them talking about how they are doing," she tells WebMD. "But they may have terrible problems with social interactions, and they need help, and these are important things to look at and evaluate."

But Sokol says it is also important for patients who suffer from anxiety to understand that there is help available and that anxiety is highly treatable with medication and behavioral therapy.

Vital Information:

  • Suffering from anxiety can negatively impact work and social life just as much as depression does.
  • Having both diagnoses results in an even greater degree of problems than either one alone.
  • Doctors tend to focus on depression over anxiety, but there are available treatments for anxiety.
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