Frequently Asked Questions about Depression and Anxiety Disorders

What is a mood disorder?
Mood disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that include depression (sometimes referred to by the technical name of ‘major depressive disorder’), and bipolar disorder. In the past, the term ‘manic-depression’ was sometimes used to describe what we refer to today as bipolar disorder.

How do I know if I have depression?
We all feel sad from time to time, but for the roughly 7 percent of American adults each year who suffer from clinical depression (major depressive disorder) the symptoms can seriously interfere with social, work, and everyday activities. Clinical depression should not be confused with the blues or normal feelings of sadness, grief, or disappointment that often occur following stressful major life events such as bereavement, loss of employment, or relationship problems. If these feelings persist beyond what seems to you to be a reasonable period of time or are seriously interfering with your life, you may want to speak with a professional health care provider to find out if you are experiencing depression.

Some common symptoms of depression include: persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or emptiness; loss of interest in activities or hobbies that used to be enjoyable; difficulty sleeping, sleep disturbances, or sleeping too much; difficulty thinking, remembering, concentrating, or making decisions. Individuals with depression may also experience recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. If you experience recurrent thoughts of death or suicide please contact a medical professional or mental health provider.

What causes depression?
While there is not always a clear cause for conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder, we know that it is partly genetic and partly due to non-genetic factors that include early life stress. There is no one cause for depression, and many factors should be taken into account in understanding the underlying cause. Some potential factors are recent stressful or traumatic events, hormonal changes, certain medications, and genetics.

What are the treatments for depression?
Depression, even in the most severe cases, is often treatable. As no two cases of depression are the same, each patient works with their health care providers to create an effective treatment plan. Common treatments are antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. However, in cases where these treatments are not effective in reducing symptoms, electroconvulsive therapy, repetitive transcranial stimulation, and other brain stimulation therapies can be explored.

How do I know if I have an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America, affecting roughly 18 percent of adults each year. The anxiety seen in these disorders is more severe than the nervous or anxious feelings that typically often occur when making an important decision, taking a test, or facing danger, and is often overwhelming to a degree which interferes with everyday activities. While it is normal to experience some level of anxiety, when it interferes with day-to-day activities, it’s time to consider the possibility that you may have an anxiety disorder. Using online tools to assess anxiety levels can be helpful but should not replace an in-person assessment by a trained clinician.

What are the different types of anxiety disorders?
There are many types of anxiety disorders and related illnesses. The main four types of anxiety disorders are detailed below.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves persistent and intense worry about everyday life. People with GAD may be concerned or anticipate disasters with health, work, family, or money to an extent that is more than seems warranted. This worry can consume hours each day and make it hard to concentrate. GAD is diagnosed when a person has had worry that is difficult to control for at least six months.

Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is characterized by sudden feelings of terror that can strike repeatedly without warning, called panic attacks. These attacks can be mistaken for a heart attack due to the physical symptoms including chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and upset stomach. Those with panic disorders may avoid places and people or undergo other measures to avoid panic attacks.

Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is more extreme than shyness as this disorder causes an intense fear about interacting with others. These fears are usually related to being negatively judged or rejected by others, and may include worries about seeming stupid or boring. Fears about interacting with others can cause a severe impairment in the lives of those with social anxiety as individuals may avoid going out with friends or avoid jobs that include social interaction.

Specific Phobia
Though we all avoid certain things or situations that make us uncomfortable or fearful, most people can control these fears and carry out daily activities. For those with phobias, a certain object or situation that poses little to no actual danger brings about an immediate reaction of intense anxiety and may cause in a panic attack. The fear of this object or situation can also cause the individual to actively avoid it. Although adults with phobias can typically recognize that their fear is excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it.

What are the treatments for anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders are usually treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. A common type of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT includes identifying the underlying thoughts causing the anxiety then challenging and neutralizing them. We also teach stress management techniques for reacting to an anxiety-producing or fearful situation. Medications commonly used for anxiety include antidepressants, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines.