The topic of mental health is vast, with so many different disorders and diagnoses to try to understand. On top of a large number of disorders, adding to the confusion, many of them overlap, creating confusion when trying to differentiate. Two disorders that are often the most difficult to distinguish are depression and anxiety. The two share a lot of common signs and symptoms, further blurring the line between them.
Adding further to the confusion, many people find that they are diagnosed with both anxiety and depression. In an article for PsychCentral, Harold Cohen, Ph.D. advised that 85% of people who are diagnosed with major depression are also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Others develop symptoms of depression as a result of their anxiety disorder, without actually suffering from both conditions. This blurred line can make it incredibly difficult to differentiate between the two disorders.
There are a number of symptoms that are associated with both disorders, and as a sufferer, it is important to know and understand what these symptoms mean when you are faced with them. One important reality for those who have recovered from a mental illness is the necessity to see when a potential relapse is coming. If there is confusion as to whether they are experiencing a relapse, or another disorder altogether, it further complicates their ability to stay on the road to recovery.
Signs and symptoms of depression that are often confused with anxiety include:
- Negative Thoughts: Both anxiety and depression can be responsible for planting some very negative thoughts in your mind. The main difference seems to be what timeline these thoughts focus on. Anxiety is often focused on the future and what CAN go wrong, whereas depression focuses instead on the past and what HAS potentially gone wrong.
- Changes in Routine: When you are suffering from either anxiety or depression you may find that regular parts of your day are changing, possibly due to becoming forgetful, being less diligent or even intentionally not talking medications, taking vitamins, etc. This may also include canceling any appointments that you have previously scheduled.
- Difficulty with Focus and Concentration: Anxiety often creates difficulty focusing due to the fact that the mind is always on the go, considering everything that could potentially go wrong in a situation. With depression, however, difficulty concentrating is due to an inability to even try to focus.
- Attention to Detail: When individuals are struggling with symptoms of mental illness this can often be seen in their attention to detail. For example, someone who previously had an immaculately clean bathroom suddenly leaving their beauty products all over the counter. This change may range from feeling of perfectionism (more often associated with anxiety) to complete apathy (more often associated with depression)
- Feelings of Extreme Fatigue: Both disorders are exhausting both mentally and physically. For this reason, it is easy to explain away feelings of exhaustion and need for sleep as being caused by being unable to sleep due to anxiety. This may also be seen in their effort in even the simplest tasks, finding something as simple as doing the dishes to be incredibly overwhelming.
- Losing All Concept of Time: Time can have a different meaning for those that are battling a mental illness. Those who are battling depression or anxiety can become so wrapped up in the thoughts in their head that hours can seem to pass in an instant. At other times they can feel so overwhelmed and stuck that time seems to slow right down.
- Changes in Eating Habits: Both disorders impact the appetite in a number of ways. This may manifest anywhere along the spectrum from ravenous hunger to a complete disregard for food and eating.
- Avoiding Human Interaction: While it is commonly accepted that feelings of anxiety can drive one to become reclusive, as interactions with others can trigger social anxiety and/or panic attacks. For those with depression, however, the idea of going out or being around people can feel exhausting, choosing instead to stay curled up at home.
There is one more similarity between the two disorders, and that is their ability to recover. Neither anxiety or depression is a death sentence. Both conditions, however, will require professional help in the form of therapy, as well as possibly through medication. Your mental health is important, so if you feel as though you are struggling at this time, please contact your family doctor or another healthcare professional!
If you are thinking about harming yourself or experiencing suicidal thoughts, tell someone who can help! Call your doctor, call 911 for emergency services, go straight to your nearest hospital emergency room, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text “START” to 741-741 to speak with a professional at the Crisis Text Line.