Two of the most common mental disorders affecting my clients are depression and anxiety. Each takes a toll on people’s lives in a multitude of ways – wreaking havoc on work career, family, health, and more. Depression can feel heavy, as if a person’s body and soul is covered with a cumbersome wet blanket. It can feel like empty hopelessness … some say it feels like hitting rock bottom, like there is nothing left. Over the years I’ve seen it hit some clients so hard that they haven’t been able to go to work or even answer the phone, and some have come close to losing their livelihood. Anxiety, though a different beast, is equally debilitating, and can cause a person to feel like he or she is “flipping out” or “losing it.” One client described it as “hitting the ceiling” of what she could tolerate, while another said he felt like he was “outside his body.” Many have told me they have obsessive thoughts, and/or felt an urge to run away or escape. Although anxiety can present in many forms, including extreme anxiousness, panic attacks and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it usually involves the feeling of fearfulness. If you’ve ever felt the “fight or flight” urge without the predictable stimulus like a car wreck or house fire, you have experienced anxiety.
It’s not unusual for clients to present with both depression and anxiety symptoms at the same time, and a trained therapist can help a person figure out what’s going on, and what to do about it. For example, many biological illnesses may have similar symptoms as depression or anxiety, and a good therapist will want to rule those out before making a final diagnosis. If it is depression or anxiety, the good news is that in most cases it is easily treatable, and there are a variety of ways to approach it that will likely fit what a person feels comfortable with. The most important thing is to get the help that you need by an experienced mental health professional. Untreated depression and anxiety can lead to more serious mental illness, and even suicide.
Causes of Depression
Having depression or anxiety (or both) is not caused by not being tough or strong enough, nor is it caused by not being able to “take it,” or due to any sort of weakness of character or lack of will. It is an illness that happens, much as the flu happens, and is nothing to be ashamed of. Many, many, people in the United States will experience depression or anxiety in their lifetime – an estimated 18.8 million Americans over age 18, or 10 percent of the adult population, will suffer from depression in a given year, and over their lifetime, about 20% or women and 10% of men will have clinical depression. Anxiety disorders are even more common, and as mentioned above, often co-exist with depression. Approximately 13% of people between the ages of 18 and 54 have an anxiety disorder in any given year.
Depression can be genetically passed down, or it can be caused by stressful situations in a person’s life. Even though a person may be genetically predisposed to depression, it does not mean that a person will get it. Likewise, people who are not genetically predisposed may also experience depression.
When diagnosing depression, therapists often look at major life changes that have occurred recently in a person’s life. Serious loss, chronic illness, marital issues, moving, financial issues and other unwelcome changes in life can add up to trigger a depression. Women are twice as likely to be depressed as men, but scientists don’t know why. (My guess is women themselves might be able to offer some suggestions!)
Symptoms of Depression
Just like other diseases, depression can come in many forms, and not everyone’s illness presents in the same way. The symptoms that therapists look for are:
- Irritable mood
- Loss of interest in things a person once enjoyed.
- Loss of energy
- Decreased appetite or overeating
- Obsessive thoughts
- Sleep issues – especially waking up and being unable to fall back to sleep.
- Feeling empty
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
- Physical aches and pains
A person can be depressed and only have one or a few of the above listed symptoms, so it is important to not self-diagnose and get a professional opinion about whether or not you’re suffering from depression.
There are several types of anxiety disorders – panic disorder, general anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and phobias are some of the most common. Remember – no disorder is just alike – each person will present with a different variety of symptoms. Here’s a list of common anxiety symptoms:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- A feeling of being “out of body”
- Feeling “on edge”
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- An unrealistic view of problems
- Restlessness or a feeling of being “edgy”
- Obsessive thinking and dwelling on issues
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- The need to go to the bathroom frequently
- Being easily startled
Treatment of Depression and Anxiety
Many depressive and anxiety disorders can be treated with psychotherapy, or a combination of psychotherapy and medications, or psychotherapy and alternative therapies such as hypnosis, Alpha-stim therapy, biofeedback, neurofeedback or other therapies. A person with depression or anxiety should be assessed by an experienced, licensed mental health professional who will collaborate with them to come up with the best plan for the individual.
For more information, contact us at 501-590-9200 .