One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year and The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 450 million people worldwide have a diagnosable mental health condition.
Of this vast statistic mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with almost 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis. (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001)
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a response to the body's natural reaction to danger. We all feel this inbuilt, natural, instinctive response in times of danger, this is known as 'Fight or Flight' response. This is what is responsible for neurological and chemical reactions that take place when we feel under threat.
If we are under threat, this reaction works with us to ensure our muscles are pumped ready for physical exertion (to fight or flee), our mental focus is narrowed allowing us to focus on the danger in order to respond quickly, and our heightened senses work to pick up danger signals swiftly and so on...
If however we feel this reaction when it is inappropriate, or at levels that are not rational or good for us, this is now anxiety. Please see our anxiety pages for more guides and our anxiety disorderspage for more on what different disorders anxiety encompasses.
What is depression?
Depression is more than feeling low or blue. At times of sadness, grief and upheaval we all suffer with the weight of difficulty and can feel down and not ourselves; this is natural, normal human behaviour. Depression as a condition is distinctly different.
Psychologist Colin Matthews explains 'Depression is different from occasionally feeling down. It is feeling down and low and hopeless for weeks at a time. It interferes with daily living and normal routine and affects the sufferer and those close to them.'
Depression symptoms commonly include:
- tiredness and loss of energy
- persistent sad, empty or anxious feelings
- loss of confidence and self-esteem
- feeling restless and agitated
- not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting, including sex
- feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- sleeping problems – insomnia, waking up much earlier than usual, or sleeping too much
- avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends and family
- finding it hard to function at work/college/school
- overeating or appetite loss
- persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- thoughts about suicide and death.
(Symptoms list from the National Institute of Mental Health)
Please see our depression guides for more information.
Why do the conditions commonly occur together?
Both anxiety and depression can exist in isolation, but it is not uncommon for them to be comorbid (present at the same time). It is very common for those suffering with one to be more likely to be afflicted with the other.
There are various philosophies for why this may be. Common sense would state that having anxiety can lead to avoidance, isolation and affect a sufferers life which can lead to depression. Also if you feel depressed and find life more challenging you can start to lose your confidence in many areas and this can ultimately lead to fear aprehension and anxiety.
Risk factors in one are similar risk factors in the other, for example those who have suffered abuse, poverty or trauma are more at risk of both of these conditions.
Lifestyle and social factors, from poor diet to lack of social opportunity are also factors in both these conditions, obviously increasing the risk of a sufferer to be afflicted with more than one disorder.