Although no one knows exactly why, a great number of depressions are also accompanied by anxiety. In one study, 85 percent of those with major depression were also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder while 35 percent had symptoms of a panic disorder. Other anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because they so often go hand in hand, anxiety and depression are considered the fraternal twins of mood disorders.
Believed to be caused in part by a malfunction of brain chemistry, generalized anxiety is not the normal apprehension that one feels before taking a test or awaiting the outcome of a biopsy. A person with an anxiety disorder suffers from what President Franklin Roosevelt called "fear itself." For a reason that is only partially known, the brain's fight-or-flight mechanism becomes activated, even when no real threat exists. Being chronically anxious is like being stalked by an imaginary tiger. The feeling of being in danger never goes away.
Even more than the depression, it was my anxiety and agitation that became the defining symptoms of my illness. Like epileptic seizures, a series of frenzied anxiety attacks would descend upon me without warning. My body was possessed by a chaotic, demonic force which led to my shaking, pacing and violently hitting myself across the chest or in the head. This self-flagellation seemed to provide a physical outlet for my invisible torment, as if I were letting steam out of a pressure cooker.
Being both anxious and depressed is a tremendous challenge. Clinicians have observed that when anxiety occurs "comorbidly" with depression, the symptoms of both the depression and anxiety are more severe compared to when those disorders occur independently. Moreover, the symptoms of the depression take longer to resolve, making the illness more chronic and more resistant to treatment. Finally, depression exacerbated by anxiety has a much higher suicide rate than depression alone. (In one study, 92 percent of depressed patients who had attempted suicide were also plagued by severe anxiety.*) Like alcohol and barbiturates, depression and anxiety are a deadly combination when taken together.
Fortunately, over 60 percent of major depressions are accompanied by varying levels of anxious feelings and behavior. (During my illness, my extreme anxiety interfered with my recovery and increased the risk of suicide.) Here are some techniques that are commonly used to treat mild to severe anxiety. Read more...