December 20

Depression and Anxiety – Are They Different?


We found that a lot of the help pages and research we have read seems to combine both anxiety and depression and their symptoms and we realised that this may not be helpful for those of you who just want to read about one. We thought that we would explain the reason for this and clarify whether they are actually different or not.

While depression and anxiety are two different conditions, they are both highly prevalent and their symptoms, causes (including genetic and neurobiological similarities) and treatments can overlap. In fact, throughout research, this issue has been called a ‘matter of controversy’ since the overlap of symptoms associated with these disorders makes diagnosis, research and treatment particularly difficult. People have queried why treatment is more difficult and it is simply because you have both. But this is not the point of the blog post and this is something your GP or psychiatrist will discuss with you.

Numbers vary throughout the literature, but did you know that between 40-85% of people experience significant symptoms of anxiety AND depression, together? If we remind ourselves that they are 2 separate conditions, and we think about all the other symptoms associated with each, and even if we took the lower number, that is still 40% of people that experience both (don’t forget that some people only experience symptoms of one). If you do experience symptoms of both, or have been diagnosed with both, you should remember that it is common, and they are both very treatable conditions.

Now, back to the point of this blog post, what is the difference between the two?

First, let’s discuss how they are ‘termed’. Depression is essentially one illness (or a single condition) with a variety of symptoms, whereas anxiety is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of more specific conditions, with the most prevalent being generalised anxiety disorder.

Second, lets discuss the some of the symptoms of each. We are not doing this to compare or for you to self-diagnose, but you may notice a couple of similarities.

Symptoms of Major Depression:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Slowing of movement
  • Lack of energy
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours

Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Restlessness
  • Easily fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble concentrating

There is some overlap when it comes to sleep, concentration and fatigue. In addition, although not stated, irritability can occur in depression in place of low mood. However, there are some distinguishing symptoms, which often affect the way an individual presents. Those who have depression, in general, may have a flattened response whereas you may see the opposite people with anxiety, especially if they have racing thoughts that they are trying to manage. If someone only experiences symptoms of depression, it is likely that they will be less worried about the future events and become trapped in negative thoughts about their current situation not improving.

With all this being said, there are treated in a similar way, psychological therapy or medication or both. For more information about the treatments for depression that are available in the UK, read our previous blog post here. So, I guess what we take from this is that generalised anxiety disorder and depression are two different conditions, but they overlap in symptoms and treatment, so you may now understand why they are often mentioned together.

If you are struggling with your mood or the symptoms seem familiar to you, please contact your GP as soon as possible. If you are extremely distressed and would like someone to talk to immediately, you should contact The Samaritans.


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