We tend to use the words “anxious” and “depressed” pretty casually. We might say we’re anxious about something that’s coming, or depressed that something didn’t go the way we wanted it to.
What we probably mean is that we’re nervous or disappointed, because anxiety and depression are on a whole other level. True anxiety and depression can actually interfere with our ability to live our lives, and when that happens, they’re called “mental illnesses.”
People who develop a problem with anxiety or depression (or both) experience a set of challenges that other people don’t. With anxiety, it can become a challenge to get out into the world, such as to work or school or social events, because doing so seems like it would be too uncomfortable or dangerous.
With depression, it can become a challenge to get out into the world for another reason, mainly that one feels a lack of energy and/or interest in participating in many aspects of life. Needless to say, either challenge can really complicate life.
A diagnosis is usually made when these challenges prevent the person from eating, sleeping, working or studying, and interacting with other people.
Phobias, panic attacks and agoraphobia are versions of anxiety, as are the most common conditions, social anxiety and generalized anxiety. A phobia is an intense aversion to a specific object or situation, such as dogs or traffic accidents.
Panic attacks are quick and intense episodes of fear, which are very physical and seem to happen for no reason at all. Agoraphobia comes into play when a person’s fear prevents them from willingly going somewhere or experiencing something that may trigger a lot of anxiety.
Many of us have felt some degree of social anxiety in our lives, but when it becomes a serious problem, the fear of embarrassment or judgment causes the person to avoid socializing so much that they isolate themselves. Generalized anxiety is essentially a problematic amount of worrying, even about things that may seem small to others.
Depression and bipolar disorder are known as mood disorders. In depression, a person feels long-lasting low moods that are powerfully debilitating and demotivating. The way they think, act, and socialize is affected negatively.
Often feelings of grief, anger, low self-esteem and anxiety are wrapped up in the “sadness” as well, and the brain’s ability to function is hampered. People struggling with depression usually withdraw from others and life because their interest and ability to do what matters to them is diminished.
Their mood can seem out of their control. Bipolar disorder comes into play when the depression is broken by periods of mania, which are mainly characterized by a dramatically elevated mood and hyperactivity.
Of course, we all experience some degree of anxiety and depression in our lives. To be human is to have to face the inevitable problems of life such as loss, failure, rejection and fear, among others.
We also have to cope with the state of our families, communities and the world. Our bodies can also be triggers of these kinds of conditions; anxiety and depression can develop for biological reasons.
It is possible to be genetically predisposed to mental illness, and poor physical health can contribute to mental illness too. Our past, particularly if we had an insecure attachment to our caregivers and if we experienced any kind of trauma, can also make it more likely for us to develop anxiety and depression.
To end, let’s consider what can be done to treat anxiety and depression. Medication is one option, which works for some people and doesn’t for others. While it can sometimes be just what is needed to correct a condition, it also comes with side effects.
Psychotherapy and counselling have also been proven in studies to be helpful for managing and recovering from mental illness. Other good treatments that are used include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and having a social support system to rely on.
Even easier than treatment is prevention. It’s important to remember that if we take care of ourselves and others, we can be mentally well.