National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week, May 4-10, is organized by Freedom From Fear (FFF), a national non-profit mental health advocacy organization located in Staten Island, New York.
Founded in 1984, the mission of FFF is “to impact, in a positive way, the lives of all those affected by anxiety, depressive and related disorders through advocacy, education, research and community support.” One of the primary goals of National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week is to help people suffering with anxiety and depressive disorders to find the best treatment.
Each year more than 40 million Americans experience an anxiety disorder, which may make them fearful and uncertain. More than 20 million people each year have some form of depressive illness, which can cause people to feel blue, have feelings of hopelessness, and experience sleep disorders. These illnesses cost the economy billions of dollars each year; and the cost in terms of human suffering is immeasurable.
Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common mental health disorders, and affect different people in different ways. They range from mild cases to conditions that are chronic and debilitating. The onset may or may not be be triggered by a specific event, but factors that contribute to both anxiety and depression include genetic susceptibility, brain chemistry, and stress levels.
Anxiety disorders and depressive illnesses can become chronic, and disrupt the lives of individuals with these conditions as well as their family members and friends. However, both depression and anxiety are treatable.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mental disorder characterized by the symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, inactivity, feelings of dejection, loss of energy, difficulty in concentrating or focusing on a topic, self-blame, changes in sleeping patterns, increase or decrease in appetite, social withdrawal, lack of interest routine activities and the occurrence of suicidal thoughts.
Everyone feels sad occasionally. Generally, this is a passing mood or a reaction to a loss, , but most people are able to overcome feelings of sadness and grief with the passage of time. However, if the feeling of sadness or other symptoms of depression lasts for a two-week period or longer, or the feelings are severe enough to interfere with daily life activities, then depression may require treatment.
Prevalence of Depression
According to the study conducted by the United States National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the annual rate of depression in American adults is 6.7 percent. The average age of onset is 32 year of age, although about 3.3 percent of youths between the ages of 13 and 18 develop severe depression. Women are 70 percent more likely to experience depression in their lifetimes than men. Depression is a medical condition and not a normal part of aging. Older adults are at an increased risk for depression.
What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are characterized by the feelings ranging from those of uneasiness to intense bouts of terror. Anxiety disorders include symptoms such as unrealistic and disproportionate worry about everyday events, or worry specific to certain tasks or objects. Anxiety disorders have been classified into following types:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): A person suffering with GAD has chronic, exaggerated worry and anxiety that appear to be without any reason or disproportionate to the demand of the situation. Physical symptoms such as headaches, twitching of muscles, muscle tension, restlessness, trembling, unable to sleep or stay asleep, sweating, etc, may also be present.
- Panic Disorder: A person suffering with panic disorder experiences bouts of intense terror suddenly and without warning. Symptoms include racing or pounding heart, shortness of breath, chest pains, choking, dizziness or lightheadedness, trembling, nausea, sweating, hot flashes or chills, fear of dying, feeling of going crazy or losing control or of unreality, tingling or sensation of numbness, etc.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD can develop in a person who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a life threatening and terrifying situation, natural disasters, kidnapping, rape, serious accidents, war, etc. Symptoms include flashbacks or reliving the event, tormenting thoughts, bad and frightening dreams, emotional numbing, feelings of strong guilt or depression or worry, persistent anxiety, difficulty in concentrating, unable to sleep or stay asleep, exaggerated startle reactions, etc. People with PTSD typically stay away from the situations, places, or objects that remind them of the traumatic event.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by occurrence of recurrent, tormenting thoughts (obsessions) and performance of certain rituals or behaviors over and over (compulsions).
- Phobias: Phobias are serious fears that make people to avoid specific things or situations or places that trigger intense anxiety in them. A specific phobia involves intense fear of a particular object or situation; for example, fear of snakes, spiders, heights, etc. For example, agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces. A person with agoraphobia may avoid being alone, being in a crowd, leaving home, crossing a bridge, or any situation where escape or rescue might be difficult, or help would not be available if panic-like symptoms develop.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: It is also called Social Phobia and involves fear of being extremely embarrassed in front of other people. The most common type of social phobia is fear of public speaking.
Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of the adult U.S. population. In any given year, GAD affects 6.8 million American adults, or 3.1 percent of the population. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected. In any given year, about six million U.S. adults experience panic disorder. About 7.7 million U.S. resident 18 or older suffer from PTSD. About 15 million adults have social anxiety disorder. About 2.2 million adults suffer from OCD, and 19 million adults, or 8.7 percent of the population, suffer from specific phobias.
Consequences of Depression and Anxiety Disorders
Depression and anxiety disorders can affect personal, social, and occupational life of the depressed patient. Following are the consequences of untreated depression and anxiety disorders:
- Suicide: People suffering from depression and anxiety disorders may have suicidal thoughts or feel that suicide is the only way to escape from their emotional pain.
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol and drug abuse is common among people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. Alcohol and drug abuse can make depression worse, and increase the risk of suicide.
- Poor Work Performance: People suffering from depression and anxiety disorders are unable to focus on their work or school, leading to poor performance and failure.
- Loss to Economy: The annual loss to U.S. due to depression and anxiety disorders is enormous. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders result in the loss of over $42 billion a year to the economy, which is approximately one-third of total national spending on mental health.
- Reckless Behavior and Self-injury: Individuals suffering from depression and anxiety disorders are more liable to demonstrate reckless behavior like driving while impaired or engaging in risky sexual behavior. Inflicting pain upon themselves or self-injurious behavior seen in depression and other mental illnesses can cause life-threatening injuries and accidental deaths.
- Relationship Problems, Social Withdrawal, and Isolation: People struggling with depression and anxiety are often emotionally, mentally, and physically drained.
- Physical Illnesses: People with depression and anxiety disorders are more prone to act unwisely when making health care choices, eat a less nutritious diet, eat too much or too little, sleep too much or too little, have no interest in exercise, do not take care of their health, and do not follow their doctor’s instructions. This creates a greater risk of physical illness, as well as the possibility of obesity or weight loss. They also have difficulty efficiently managing an existing disease like diabetes or hypertension.
Depression and anxiety disorders not only affect the lives of the people suffering from these illnesses, but they can also directly or indirectly affect the lives of other people.
Treatment of Depression and Anxiety Disorders
Depression and anxiety disorders are treatable medical conditions. Treatment involves the use of psychotherapy, or medication, or both. Specific types of psychotherapies (for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT) and specific medicines (for example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) are usually effective options.
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