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What is the Difference Between Depression and Anxiety?

When I was in graduate school learning to become a therapist, one of my professors said, “Depression is overwhelming sadness about what has happened, and anxiety is overwhelming worry about what might happen.” To this day, I feel that this is an excellent, easy to understand description. I use this quote frequently to help my own patients during an initial evaluation. It’s not uncommon for a patient to say, “I think I have both!”

What is Depression?

Depression is a medical illness that affects people from all walks of life. It is not always clear why it happens for some and not for others. There can be issues from the past that were never dealt with as well as current stressors that feel unmanageable. Most studies show that medication and therapy can help alleviate the symptoms, and increase a person’s ability to move forward successfully with life.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety, also a medical illness, may frequently be described as over-worrying. Often times about things we have little or no control over. When working with a patient who is struggling with anxiety, as with depression, we must look at past issues and current stressors. Anxious people will be caught up in “what-if” thinking. I consider “what if” thinking to be one of the biggest indicators of an anxiety disorder. If “what-if” thinking becomes unmanageable, daily life can feel like a struggle. Unfortunately, some people resort to drugs and alcohol to manage these symptoms. This can be true for both depression and anxiety.

Don't Be Afraid To Seek Help

When I talk to a new patient, so many times they think they have failed. They say if I were “just strong enough” the symptoms of depression or anxiety would just go away. My response to that is to compare the medical issues of depression and anxiety with the medical issues of diabetes. Sure, there may be lifestyle changes that need to occur with any illness, but there may also be medications, support groups, talk therapy and further supports.

What I’m suggesting is that if you, or someone you know, are struggling with depression or anxiety, please consider asking for help. Talk with your medical providers and discuss what options are best for you. CHI Health has outpatient clinics for behavioral and mental-health throughout the Omaha area and in Iowa. You can call (402) 717-HOPE (4673) to get more information.

Original post date: December 2011. Revised: June 2019.

Karen Williams, LIMHP
Karen Williams, LIMHP

Karen Williams, LIMHP is a Mental Health provider at CHI Health.

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