Sometimes when we think about mental illness, we take them for what they are. We might know their symptoms and what it looks like in others. For instance, we know depression is an experience of little energy, low self-worth, and sadness. We are familiar with mental illness but at times without understanding the deeper relationships between them.
For instance, we know anxiety to create physiological experiences of a racing heart, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking and sweating palms, and feeling hot. All of this happens in seconds. In an instant, the body prepares the sympathetic nervous system, and if the anxiety is severe enough, it will prepare to go into either fight or flight.
Yet, at the root of all anxiety is fear. We’re afraid that something is going to happen. Even in a diagnosis like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), where there is free-floating anxiety, there is at root an unknown fear. Often, there is an inability to trust the world, along with distrust of other people, circumstances, and even of oneself. GAD is a diagnosis given to those who experience excessive and irrational worry for at least six months. The excessive anxiety interferes with the ability to function and usually consists of extreme anxiety for everyday matters.
Actually, there are various types of Anxiety Disorders, of which GAD is one. However, anxiety that is excessive and unrealistic is different than the level of anxiety that a teen might have prior to an exam, for example. This sort of anxiety or nervousness is considered normal. But, experiencing anxiety every morning upon waking might be symptomatic of a disorder.
Yet, if anxiety is at root about fear, then how is it related to depression? Often, beneath anxiety, there is depression, the presence of underlying emotions that have been directed inward. It’s common for teens (and adults) to become afraid of their own feelings, especially if those feelings are challenging, and so they get pressed inward. Feelings such as anger and shame, especially if they’re intense, can be pushed away. In fact, the word depression has Latin roots that mean “pressed down”, as though the energy of the mind and heart has been pushed inward instead of expressed and leaves an adolescent feeling “down”, despondent, or low. The psychological illness of depression includes symptoms of persistent sadness, loss of interest in daily activities, occupational and educational impairment, along with eventual emotional and physical problems.
The relationship between anxiety and depression is like a reaction to the reaction of feelings. For instance, intense and challenging emotions lie inward and at one point there wasn’t enough safety to be able to express them. So there they stay – deep inside. In fact, you want to keep them there because they are intense and so if and when they do arise, you push them inward. However, because they are intense, and you don’t want to feel them there is a fear of them arising. There is a fear of those feelings showing up again. First, there is the depression, the pushing down of feelings, and then there is anxiety, the fearful response to those feelings coming back to haunt you.
Interestingly, both depression and anxiety are incredibly common psychological disorders throughout the United States. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common type of psychological illness. According to Moretza and Karen Khaleghi, authors of the book Anatomy of Addiction, 19.1 million adults suffer from anxiety, which translates to about 13.3 percent of the U.S. population, or about one in every seven adults. Also, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America reports that one in eight children are affected by anxiety disorders.
About 9 percent of American adults suffer from depression, and globally, five percent of the population across the planet suffers from depression, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, about 70 percent of all antidepressants sold in the world are sold in the United States.
Fortunately, anxiety and depression are treatable disorders. Anyone who has been diagnosed with GAD or MDD would benefit from participating in either individual or group therapy or both. Both therapy and medication combined can address the symptoms as well as the underlying issues that contributed to the anxiety or depression in the first place.