The Most Common mental illness in the U.S.

Anxiety

Feeling anxious is just a part of life. In some cases, that unease can help us. But when that trepidation doesn’t go away, it’s a sign you may have an anxiety disorder.

The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can interfere with daily activities as you worry excessively over things like your health, work, school, and social interactions. Plenty of us have been there: Your heart feels like it’s trying to break out of your ribcage, you can’t concentrate, and you’re wringing your hands as you think of everything that can go wrong and everything you’ve already supposedly messed up beyond repair.

That’s the thing about anxiety disorders;

and everything seems worse than it actually is.

Yes, an anxiety disorder is a mental illness, but it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Let’s put this into perspective: Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And some form of anxiety disorder is pretty common. In fact, NIMH data shows anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S.

NIMH estimates 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. In the past year alone, about 19.1% had some sort of anxiety disorder. So if you’re suffering from constant fear and panic, you are not alone.

That doesn’t mean you should just live with it, however.

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, weakness or dizziness. It’s also been linked to heart disease, chronic breathing disorders and problems with your digestive system.

Researchers say a combination of genes and environment are to blame for anxiety disorders. A family history of anxiety or other mental illnesses means you may be at risk for developing an anxiety disorder yourself. Exposure to stressful and negative life events can also put you at risk.

Even physical health conditions like thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias or substances like caffeine or certain medications can cause or exacerbate anxiety symptoms, NIMH says.

Anxiety also often comes with depression, though there is no evidence the two disorders are causally  linked, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

From generalized anxiety disorder to agoraphobia, you can figure out whether you display symptoms of an anxiety disorder here. And, of course, you should talk about these symptoms with a doctor and arrange a physical health examination.

If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, you can try medication or therapy—or both—to treat it.

Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy” is one way to help. According to the American Psychological Association, about 75 percent of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit from it. To get the most out of psychotherapy, you need to be open to the treatment and honest with your therapist. You also need to follow any assignments your therapist gives you between sessions.

Another form of therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves trying to change the way you think and behave. With CBT, you learn to be your own therapist through exercises in the session and assignments in between. This type of therapy also emphasizes what is going on in the present, rather than focusing on what led up to your anxiety, according to the APA.

You can also ask your doctor about anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants, or beta-blockers to treat your anxiety. The right drug for you depends on your symptoms, the side-effects, your medical history, the cost of the drug and the lifestyle changes that might be necessary to take the medication.

You can also ask your doctor about anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants, or beta-blockers to treat your anxiety. The right drug for you depends on your symptoms, the side-effects, your medical history, the cost of the drug and the lifestyle changes that might be necessary to take the medication.

The exact cause of depression isn’t known, but the Mayo Clinic says brain chemistry, hormones and genetics are contributing factors.

Not something you can “snap out” of

Depression

“Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and it’s a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease,” according to the World Health Organization.

WHO says more women experience depression than men—but it’s a disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life. So yes, children and teens are not too young to suffer from depression.

Depending on its intensity, depression can make it very difficult to get through the day. It affects more than just how you feel; it affects how you think, how you sleep, how you eat and how you work, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Though there is no evidence that anxiety causes depression or vice versa, there is evidence that many people suffer from both, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says.

It is normal to feel sad or lonely in response to negative situation. But NIMH says if you’ve been dealing with several of the following symptoms for at least two weeks, you may be experiencing a depressive disorder (list via NIMH):

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

The exact cause of depression isn’t known, but the Mayo Clinic says brain chemistry, hormones and genetics are contributing factors. 

Depression can lead to more problems, the Mayo Clinic says. At worst, it can lead to suicide. Other complications include physical illness, pain, drug abuse, social isolation, excess weight, self-mutilation, relationship problems, family conflicts and difficulties at work and school. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the most commonly diagnosed form of depression is major depressive disorder. NIMH says 17.3 million adults in the U.S.—7.1% of all adults in the country—had at least one major depressive episode in 2017.

Dealing with depression can seem impossible. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 ad 34, NIMH says. But this means you can pat yourself on the back for the little things, like getting out of bed or brushing your teeth or eating a healthy meal. These very small things can seem like a herculean task for someone battling depression—and any bit of progress you make is a huge victory, an incentive to keep going.

And remember that no matter how hopeless it seems, even the most severe cases of depression can be treated. Like anxiety, depression can be treated with medication, therapy or both. You can even keep track of your progress with scales like this one provided by outcometracker.org.

The types of therapy proven effective include psychotherapy, where you talk out your problems; and cognitive behavioral therapy, where you work on changing the way you think and behave. You can check out the benefits the American Psychological Association lists for each type of therapy at the links above and decide which you would prefer. Once you’ve decided, you can find a therapist here.

For medication, talk with your doctor about your symptoms, your medical history, the cost and the side-effects of a drug before deciding what works best for you. NIMH has a more information on what you should consider.

Be aware that some anti-depressants may increase suicidal thoughts or behavior. The Food and Drug Administration warns that patients of all ages need to be watched closely when taking anti-depressants, especially during the first few weeks.