Mental health is a critical aspect of overall well-being, and mental illness affects millions of people around the world. Recently there has been a growing awareness and understanding of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression – two common disorders which can have a substantial effect on someone’s quality of life. If you’re dealing with persistent feelings of stress, sadness, or other emotional challenges, it is essential to understand the differences between anxiety and depression, recognize their symptoms, and seek professional assistance when needed.
Facts and Figures about Anxiety and Depression in Australia
Anxiety and depression are global mental health conditions that impact millions of people worldwide. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, 16.8% of Australians (3.3 million people) aged 16-85 experienced an anxiety disorder within the past year; on the other hand, 7.5% Australian (1.5 million people) suffered from affective disorders including depressive episodes, commonly referred to as depression in this same age group. These staggering figures demonstrate the significant prevalence of anxiety and depression in Australia, and similar trends can also be observed globally.
What are the differences between Anxiety and Depression?
Although anxiety and depression share many similarities, they are distinct mental health conditions with differences in symptoms and characteristics. By understanding the distinctions between them, individuals and their loved ones can more accurately identify and address their mental health needs.
Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry, fear and apprehension about various aspects of life such as work, school, relationships, health and the future. It often presents as persistent worry which is difficult to control; physical symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension or sleep disturbances may appear alongside anxiety. Anxiety may also cause people to avoid situations or triggers that cause distress.
Depression, on the other hand, is marked by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once pleasurable. It may present as changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, guilt/worthlessness feelings as well as thoughts of death or suicide. Depression has an immense impact on daily living activities and may ultimately reduce quality of life overall.
What are the most prevalent Anxiety Disorders?
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This anxiety disorder is marked by excessive and persistent worry about various aspects of life, even when there are no apparent causes for worry. Physical symptoms may include restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Commonly referred to as social phobia, this anxiety disorder is marked by an intense fear of judgment or evaluation in social settings. This fear can lead to avoidance of interactions and have a major impact on an individual’s social and occupational functioning.
- Panic Disorder: This anxiety disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks, which are sudden and intense episodes of fear or discomfort that may include symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and an overwhelming sense of impending doom.
- Specific Phobias: This disorder is related to an extreme fears or aversions to certain objects, situations, or events such as heights, spiders, flying, and enclosed spaces that can cause intense distress and avoidance behaviours.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder: OCD is characterised by intrusive thoughts and fears (obsessions), that can lead to do repetitive mental acts or behaviours (compulsions), in an attempt to reduce anxiety and distress. People with OCD often find it difficult to control their thoughts and behaviours which can significantly interfere with daily life.
What are the most prevalent Depressive Disorders?
- Major Depressive Disorder: Also referred to as clinical depression, this is the most prevalent type of depressive disorder. It is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, along with a loss of interest or pleasure in activities. Physical symptoms may include changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder: Also referred to as dysthymia or chronic depression, this form of depression is characterized by chronic low mood that lasts for at least two years. It may present with similar symptoms to major depressive disorder but with less severity.
- Postpartum Depression: Postpartum depression can occur after giving birth and is marked by symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances and difficulty bonding with the baby.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: This type of depression is related to changes in seasons and typically occurs during the winter months when there is less sunlight. It is associated with symptoms like low mood, changes in appetite and increased sleepiness.
What symptoms could someone experience if they have both Anxiety and Depression?
- Persistent feelings of worry or fear accompanied by persistent low mood or sadness.
- Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or sleeping too much.
- Changes in appetite or weight, either loss of appetite or overeating.
- Fatigue, low energy, or a lack of motivation.
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Irritability or agitation or feeling on the edge
- Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, or digestive issues such as stomach aches.
- Avoidance of social situations or withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities.
- Feeling empty, hopeless and worthless
- Rumination, negative thinking and self-defeating beliefs
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
It’s essential to note that everyone’s experience of anxiety and depression may differ, and not all individuals will show the same symptoms. Therefore, it is crucial to seek professional help from a qualified mental health expert for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
What are the primary causes of Anxiety and Depression?
- Genetic Predisposition: Recent research suggests there may be a genetic component to anxiety and depression, with individuals with a family history of these conditions being more susceptible to developing them.
- Brain Chemistry: Studies have linked imbalances in certain chemicals within the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, to anxiety and depression symptoms.
- Environmental Factors: Chronic stress, traumatic life events, childhood trauma and other adverse life experiences may contribute to the development of anxiety and depression.
- Personality Factors: Certain personality traits, such as high levels of neuroticism or low self-esteem, may increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression.
- Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances and chronic pain, may increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression.
- Substance Abuse: Substance abuse, including alcohol and drugs, can exacerbate anxiety and depression or even be the cause of these conditions.
- Cognitive Factors: Maladaptive thought patterns, negative thinking styles and cognitive distortions may contribute to the onset of anxiety or depression.
Can Anxiety and Depression be cured?
While there is no definitive “cure” for anxiety and depression, these conditions can be effectively managed and treated with appropriate interventions. With the right treatment plan, many individuals with anxiety and depression can experience significant improvement in their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. It is important to remember that seeking professional help from a qualified mental health expert is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
What treatments are available for Anxiety and Depression?
- Psychotherapy: Commonly known as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves working with a trained therapist to identify and address the causes of anxiety and depression. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one common type of therapy that targets altering negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety or depression. Other types of therapies, such as Exposure Therapy for phobias or Trauma-focused therapy for stress and trauma related disorder such as PTSD, may also be recommended depending on the specific condition being addressed.
- Medication: Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications can be effective in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications for these conditions; however, it’s essential to work closely with a qualified healthcare professional in finding the right medication and dosage that meets each individual’s specific needs.
- Lifestyle Changes: Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can be extremely helpful in managing anxiety and depression. Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep each night, and utilize stress management techniques like relaxation exercises, meditation, or mindfulness can all lead to improved mental clarity and wellbeing.
- Supportive Interventions: Establishing a solid support network, such as talking to trusted friends and family members, joining support groups, or participating in activities that bring joy and fulfilment, can help individuals cope with anxiety and depression.
- Combination Therapy: Combining psychotherapy and medication may be appropriate for more severe symptoms or complex cases of anxiety or depression. This provides a holistic and comprehensive approach to managing these conditions.
- Alternative Treatments: Some individuals may find relief from anxiety and depression through alternative treatments like acupuncture, herbal supplements, or other complementary therapies. Before trying any such remedies, it is essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional first to ensure their safety and efficacy.
What are some natural remedies for Anxiety and Depression?
While natural remedies may be beneficial for some individuals, it’ is essential to remember that they should never replace professional medical advice and treatment. However, some individuals may find relief from anxiety and depression through the following natural remedies:
- Exercise: Regular physical activity has been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain.
- Healthy Diet: Eating a nutritious and mineral-rich diet that provides essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can improve mental health. Limiting caffeine, sugar consumption and processed foods while including omega-3 fatty acids from sources like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds in your meals is known to be beneficial in managing anxiety or depression symptoms.
- Sleep hygiene: Getting enough restful sleep is essential for mental health. Establishing a consistent bedtime ritual and creating a comfortable sleep environment can help promote healthy sleeping patterns.
- Relaxation Techniques: Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by promoting relaxation and relieving stress.
- Social Support: Spending time with loved ones, talking to friends or family members, and participating in activities that bring joy and fulfilment may be helpful when managing anxiety and depression.
- Herbal Supplements: Some herbal supplements, such as St. John’s Wort and chamomile, have been studied for their potential benefits in managing mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is essential to consult a qualified healthcare professional before using any herbal supplement due to possible interactions with medications or adverse reactions.
It is essential to remember that natural remedies may provide some temporary comfort for mild to moderate symptoms, they should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment. It’s always best to consult with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for an individual’s specific needs.
How does a Psychologist help with Anxiety and Depression?
In Australia, psychologists are highly-trained mental health professionals that can offer invaluable assistance in managing anxiety and depression. Psychologists use various evidence-based techniques and therapies to assist individuals understand and manage their symptoms, improve healthy coping skills, and develop strategies for overcoming difficulties associated with anxiety or depression.
- Assessment and Diagnosis: Psychologists can conduct comprehensive assessments to accurately diagnose anxiety or depression. This involves reviewing the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and other relevant details in order to decide on an effective treatment plan.
- Psychotherapy: Talk therapy, commonly known as psychotherapy, is a popular and successful treatment for anxiety and depression. Psychologists use different types of therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), among others, to assist individuals identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviours, develop healthy coping skills, and enhance their overall mental and emotional wellbeing.
- Counselling and Support: Psychologists offer counselling and support to those struggling with anxiety and depression. They create a safe, non-judgmental space for individuals to express their emotions, worries, and fears without judgement; as well as they offer guidance and comfort as they navigate through difficult emotions.
- Psychoeducation: Psychologists offer education about anxiety and depression, helping individuals comprehend the conditions, symptoms, and available treatments. Psychoeducation also includes teaching coping skills, stress management techniques, and healthy lifestyle habits to individuals which may help them to better manage their symptoms.
- Collaborative Treatment Planning: Psychologists work collaboratively with individuals to develop a personalized treatment plan that suits their specific needs and goals. This may include a combination of therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and other interventions tailored to the individual’s unique circumstances.
- Support for loved ones: Psychologists can also offer support and guidance to the families of individuals suffering from anxiety or depression. This may include helping family members comprehend the condition, providing coping strategies for supporting their loved one, as well as answering any queries or worries they may have.
Author: Umesh Shah, Registered Psychologist. BSc (Psych), GD (Psych), MSocWk, MAAPi.
Umesh has over eight years’ experience working in the mental health field both in the public and private sectors, as well as various NGOs across Victoria and Queensland, as a registered Psychologist
To make an appointment with Umesh Shah try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
Australian Psychological Society. (2018). Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey. https://www.psychology.org.au/for-the-public/Psychology-topics/Stress-and-wellbeing-in-Australia
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2022). National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/latest-release
Beyond Blue. (2020). Anxiety and Depression in Australia. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/media/statistics/anxiety-and-depression-in-australia-facts-and-figures
Mental Health Australia. (2019). Mental Health in Australia: A Snapshot. https://mhaustralia.org/sites/default/files/documents/mhaustralia-mental-health-snapshot-2019.pdf
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2014). Clinical Naturopathy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Practice (2nd ed.). Elsevier Australia.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. (2018). Australian and New Zealand clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of depression. Retrieved from https://www.ranzcp.org/files/resources/college_statements/ranzcp-depression-guideline-2018.aspx
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. (2018). Australian and New Zealand clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.ranzcp.org/files/resources/college_statements/ranzcp-anxiety-guideline-2018.aspx
World Health Organization. (2017). Mental disorders: Fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders