Does being depressed simply mean that you’re feeling a little blue and does feeling anxious just mean you’re nervous? Here’s where you can find out…
“Karen* has been feeling very sad after her partner of 12 years abruptly left her. Her performance at work has been sliding and some days, she calls in sick because she doesn’t want to leave the house. She stays home and cries the whole day. Her colleagues good-naturedly tell her to snap out of it and be the bright bubbly Karen she used to be but she just can’t.”
“Andrew* has a presentation coming up and he’s been fretting a lot even if preparations have been completed. He keeps thinking he’ll fail and right before the presentation, he starts breaking out into cold sweats and hyperventilating. His chest tightens and starts to hurt so he thinks he’s having a heart attack.”
Both Karen and Andrew’s experiences could be indicators of depression and anxiety, respectively. However, how much do you know about these mental conditions? It must be said that these illnesses are not just about ‘feeling sad’ or ‘feeling nervous’. Sunway Medical Centre’s Clinical Psychologist, Jessie Foo reveals what you need to know about depression and anxiety.
Not just down in the dumps
According to Foo, depression is a mood disorder where there are feelings of sadness, emptiness or irritability. It affects how the individual feels, thinks and behaves to the point where it can interfere with their capacity to function normally.
Signs of depression can happen most days and almost all day and these include feeling sad, empty and hopeless, becoming angry or irritable over small matters, loss of interest in normal activities, having trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, significant change in weight, lethargy, feeling worthless, having difficulty thinking clearly and concentrating or making decisions and having suicidal thoughts.
Foo adds that there are many different types of depression (see Faces of Depression for more information) namely, major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
More than just flighty and fidgety
Feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder are different in the way it affects a person. Foo explains that, “While fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, anxiety is an anticipation of a future threat. Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life.” However, she emphasises that people with anxiety disorders experience excessive, intense and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. These anxious feelings interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control and are disproportionate to the actual danger that the person is facing.
Foo states that when an anxiety attack occurs, the intense fear triggers severe physical reactions such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, a feeling of choking, chest pain, nausea, feeling dizzy, unsteady or light-headed, feeling the fear of losing control and even feeling like you’re about to die.
One step at a time
Although depression and anxiety are different conditions, Foo says they often occur together. This is believed to be partially caused by an imbalance in the patient’s brain chemistry. It is common to have depression that is triggered by an anxiety disorder. Additionally, mental health professionals often provide similar treatments for both conditions.
Foo says that depression can be triggered by an event in your life or an imbalance in the brain chemistry. Therefore, the first step is to visit a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to understand your experiences and find ways to manage your depression.
The difference between the two medical professionals is that a psychiatrist may use antidepressants to treat depression, whereas a clinical psychologist may use an evidence-based practice like cognitive behavioural therapy to develop new coping skills for you to enhance your ability to cope with the depression.
As for an anxiety disorder, just like depression, it is advisable to visit a mental health professional so that the psychiatrist or clinical psychologist can determine the type of anxiety that you are experiencing.
Foo states that medication like antidepressants may be used to alleviate the physical symptoms. Attending psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy to learn relaxation techniques, restructuring patterns of thinking that foster anxiety and making lifestyle changes, are helpful as well. “Research has shown that using a combination of both medication and psychotherapy helps to relieve the individual from anxiety symptoms,” says Foo.
If the symptoms that you are experiencing are interfering with your ability to function on a daily basis, it’s best to see a mental health professional about treatment options. The mental health professional can help to evaluate your current condition and discuss treatment options that may or may not involve both medication and psychotherapy.
Remember that suffering from a mental disorder is not a weakness or flaw in your character and there is help available.
Faces of depression
According to WebMD, major depressive disorder or major depression can occur more than once in a lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have major depression due to hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage and menopause. Other factors include stress at home or work, lack of work-life balance, caring for an elderly parent and being a single mum.
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) is a form of chronic depression with symptoms that are less serious but which last longer than other types of depression. This form of depression usually affects young people whose symptoms may go unnoticed because they are less acute.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) where a woman displays the symptoms of PMS but in a way that interferes with her work, social activities and relationships. Symptoms include mood swings, tension, anxiety, anger, fatigue, feeling out of control or physical problems such as bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, and joint or muscle pain.