Depression and Anxiety: Diseases or Symptoms?

depression and anxiety symptoms

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Depression and anxiety. Are they diseases in and of themselves as they are popularly regarded, or are they disorders? What if they, in and of themselves, are merely emotional symptoms (indicators) of deeper, underlying issues? It’s worth noting that most people with some degree of depression also suffer from an anxiety disorder.

First, no one who deals with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness should ever be made to feel that what he or she is experiencing is “all in [your] head.” Mental illness and its effects are all too (painfully) real for those experiencing them, and professional treatment can become a very real need.

But it matters how you frame mental illness. It can mean the difference between someone’s mindlessly and passively undergoing treatment and merely following a clinician’s “marching orders,” and that same individual’s taking a proactive and conscientious approach to acknowledging mental illness for what it is and confronting it effectively.

Now…

It will likely not come as a surprise to you, but diseases, by definition, are evidence of some abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function of the human body, not due to any external injury. Diseases may, however, be caused by other external factors such as pathogens or internal dysfunction. Empirical data can be gathered and analyzed (via a testing or imaging method of some sort), and the problem can be reliably identified. Sure, your brain is also an organ, but a very complex one, about which there still remain mysteries and unknowns. There is no definitively reliable “depression test” or “anxiety test” from which a clear diagnosis can be reviewed and addressed directly.

In the case of mental illness, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms can be described to a clinician, who then draws upon his or her knowledge, experience, and expertise in order to help the individual identify, manage, process, work through, and minimize said symptoms. Medication and psychotherapy are common components of a treatment program.

That’s not to say that mental health professionals are just guessing, but rather to recognize that clinical approaches to address mental illness are far from being a perfect science.

Here’s the thing…

It is one of life’s unavoidable givens that sometimes everyone gets sad, gets nervous, becomes troubled or anxious, etc. Many of us may even grapple with varying degrees of psychosis from time to time.

Becoming clinically depressed or suffering from chronic anxiety are more severe, and potentially debilitating, versions of normal, everyday emotional responses to life’s routine bumps and bruises. But it becomes confusing when the emotions associated with depression and anxiety cloud the true underlying problems at play. In other words, the emotions (emotional responses) are not the same thing as the actual problem.

Depression symptoms and anxiety symptoms are signals that you are not processing something effectively, or that some need of yours isn’t being met. It is critical to your healthy sense of self that you feel loved and important by the most important people in your life. And it is important for your overall well-being that you have respect and compassion for yourself.

Imagine feeling unfulfilled in your relationships with friends or family, or perhaps you may be temporarily at odds with someone important in your life. You may feel unfulfilled or lacking in your intimate relationships/involvements. You may feel like your life has little purpose or meaning, or that you don’t matter, or that you have nothing to contribute and add value to society. Perhaps you feel guilt or shame for something you have done, or may continue to do. This may lead to feelings of worthlessness, and/or hopelessness, to dismal self-esteem, and even to substance abuse/dependence. And hence, feelings of depression and anxiety.

But the feelings themselves aren’t the problem, though they can feel as excruciating as physical pain. Your unfulfilled needs are the problem.

Note that feelings of depression and anxiety can lead to your further isolation and avoidance from others, and from effectively addressing the causes of your painful feelings – which can lead to more depressive and anxious feelings, reinforcing the already existing source of your crippling feelings.

Here is why this differentiation matters…

This may seem self-evident, but consider this: imagine how different an approach you would take to addressing your mental illness if you thought of it in terms of “I deal with a mental illness/disorder” as compared to “I am mentally ill.” This valuable shift in perspective can be enlightening and is a coping mechanism/skill known as “reframing.” Reframing can help you feel better more quickly, more in control of your situation, and can lessen the duration of you feeling hurt or confused.

So the trick is…

There are no “silver bullets” or magical methods to help you cope with depression and anxiety. But know that the better coping and management skills you can learn with the help of your mental health clinician, psychotherapy, and possibly medication, the more clearly you’ll be able to recognize underlying problems that are resulting in depressive/anxious emotions, and the better you’ll be able to nip them in the bud.

This may seem overly simplistic, but remember, through appropriate treatment, you can learn to recognize depression and anxiety for what they truly are: symptoms of problems rather than problems in and of themselves. It can make all the difference in your recovery.

Do you deal with depression and/or anxiety? You are not alone and we want you to know that you can pursue a happy, productive life even if you deal with mental health challenges. Mental illness is treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

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