National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week

Each year the first week of May is recognized as National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week. Designated to raise awareness surrounding the most common mental health disorders in the United States, this week is important for ending stigmas surrounding mental illness. Social attitudes about mental health and mental illness promote shame and secrecy, causing many to suffer in silence. Depression and anxiety are both potentially debilitating mental health disorders that impact all areas of one’s life.

Understanding Depression

It’s important to understand the roots of mental health disorders and how they impact the daily lives of those affected. From relationships to one’s ability to perform in school or work, depression and anxiety greatly impact one’s ability to function.

Depression is defined within the DSM-5 as experiencing five or more of the following symptoms over the course of a two week period in conjunction with a depressed mood or loss of interest:

  • Extended periods of depressed mood nearly every day
  • Diminished interest in most activities nearly every day
  • Significant increase or decrease in appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Recurrent suicidal thoughts, planning, or attempted suicide

Depression may occur on its own, or concurrently with other mental health disorders. Depression can present itself as irritability, anxiety, brooding, or even as symptoms of physical pain. People who are depressed may not be willing or able to readily identify their symptoms. Saying things like ‘I just don’t feel well’ or ‘I’m tired’ can be a sign of concealed depression. Other subtle signs include:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns including excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • Reckless behavior
  • Dismissing invitations or avoiding friends and social events
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Sudden aches and pain

Depression can have a variety of causes. Chronic depression may have biochemical source such as a neurochemical imbalance. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression caused by changes in dopamine produced by sun exposure. Depression can also be caused by traumatic life events like an injury, illness, dissolution of a long-term relationship, or death of a close loved one. No matter the source, it’s important not to invalidate a person’s struggles.

For some, depression coincides with other mental health issues like anxiety.

RELATED: Mental Health Awareness Week: Depression and Substance Abuse

Understanding Anxiety

According to the DSM-5, anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear or worry caused by anticipation of a threat or conflict. While anxiety itself is a normal facet of life, anxiety disorders can disrupt one’s ability to function in day to day situations. Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
  • Insomnia and other sleeping issues
  • Hyper-vigilance

Anxiety affects the body’s physical health as well:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Digestive issues
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations
  • Stomachaches, muscle aches
  • Issues breathing
  • Panic attacks

Panic attacks and panic disorders are not the same as anxiety disorders, though they may occur together. Panic and anxiety disorders can be easily confused for each other because symptoms may overlap. The primary difference is that panic disorders involve a sudden onset of symptoms, often with no apparent cause.

Symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling numb or detached from reality
  • Fear of impending death

Much like depression, anxiety can have a number of causes, including biochemical imbalances or past traumas. When depression and anxiety occur together, coping with the dueling emotions is overwhelming. Feeling anxious about achieving goals or other’s expectations may cause inaction, deepening depression when one falls short. Struggling with both fear of imminent death and suicidal ideation can leave one feeling like they’re drowning and seeking ways to cope. Unfortunately, mental health disorders increase one’s risk of developing an addiction.

RELATED: What You Need to Know About: Anxiety Disorders

Depression, Anxiety, and Addiction

Often substance abuse is a symptom of underlying mental illness. Depression and anxiety are common among people living with substance abuse disorders. Using drugs and alcohol to escape the negative thoughts and emotions associated with these and other mental health disorders creates a vicious cycle with potentially deadly consequences. That’s why it’s so important to treat co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders concurrently.

If you or a loved one is suffering from depression or anxiety and drugs and alcohol are further complicating the issue, we can help. Contact us today for more information.


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