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Your Guide to Mental Health

How to spot depression and anxiety

Everyone gets butterflies in their stomach when stepping into unfamiliar territory, and it’s completely normal to feel sad or blue when something doesn’t go your way. But if your sadness lingers for more than two weeks or your nervousness or worrying interferes with your ability to function, you could be suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. They affect the way you feel, how you think, whether you can eat or sleep — making life a daily struggle. “If you are totally paralyzed and that does not allow you to continue with your regular life, then it’s a problem,” says Dr. Gabriela Cora, a board-certified psychiatrist and the medical director for Aetna Behavioral Health.

Many people confuse depression with sadness. Both can be triggered by a stressful event, such as financial woes or the loss of a loved one. And while some of the symptoms are similar — crying, feeling down or feeling upset — people who are diagnosed with a major depressive disorder often don’t feel any joy and can’t seem to snap out of it. It eventually causes them to withdraw from family and friends, grow weary or restless, and feel a sense of impending doom.

People with depression can also have anxiety, which often causes irrational fear. Disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder or other phobias. Though anxiety is a serious medical condition that should be treated, only one-third of those suffering from it receive medical treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Whether you have depression or anxiety (or both), the most important thing is not to ignore the warning signs and to seek help, Dr. Cora says. In most cases, these conditions will only get worse if they go unchecked. (If you’re concerned there’s a danger of self-harm, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or 800-799-4889.) “Depression and anxiety are treatable conditions just like any other medical issues,” she adds. “The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the intervention, the better outcome.”

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