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How Are Panic Disorders and Depression Related?

At first glance, one may think there’s no link between panic disorder and depression. One condition implies a person may be animated and visibly upset after being triggered, while the other may bring to mind an image of a person who mopes around while feeling “down in the dumps.” 

Neither assumption presents the whole story, as the connection is more complex than what meets the eye. To understand how these two mental health conditions are connected, we must first understand what they are.

What Is Panic Disorder?

People with panic disorder experience repeated episodes of intense fear known as panic attacks and usually are caught off guard because these episodes seemingly come out of nowhere. 

Panic disorder is common, as it affects 6 million adults, or 2.7 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Women are twice as likely to be affected as men, and about 2 to 3 percent of Americans experience panic disorder in a year.

In some cases, panic attacks happen after a person has experienced an external stressor, such as a phobia. However, they can happen unexpectedly with no clear cause or reason. 

Physical symptoms often mark these episodes, which can be helpful in recognizing them when they happen. Among these symptoms are: 

  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

Symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes, and the panic attacks eventually subside. However, the fear that they will return usually lingers long after the attacks are over. People who have them can become preoccupied with the possibility of the episodes happening again, and some may feel helpless in controlling them. The American Academy of Family Physicians explains that panic disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences recurring, unexpected panic attacks and exhibits at least one of the following:

  1. Having persistent concern about having another attack
  2. Worrying about the implications of an attack or its consequences
  3. Experiencing a major change in behavior related to the attacks (such as avoiding daily activities like going to work)

The ADAA writes that panic disorder is real and that treatment can be effective. People who experience it are encouraged to seek professional help.

What Is Depression?

Depression goes beyond “feeling the blues,” and it is often more significant than most realize. The condition, also known as major depressive disorder, is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). 

In addition to changing one’s mood, depression can cause a person to lose interest in activities they once found enjoyable and disengage from life in such a way that they can’t function in any environment, such as at home or at work. They also may experience changes in their appetite or sleep schedule and find it hard to stay on task or feel motivated to take on tasks. 

Symptoms of depression range from mild to severe, but the APA advises that symptoms must last at least two weeks before a diagnosis of depression can be given. It also writes that depression is treatable and that between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with the condition eventually respond to treatment. “Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms,” the association says.

Treatment may involve antidepressant medications and therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help the person focus on positive solutions for changing their thoughts and behaviors.

How Panic Disorder and Depression Are Linked 

Panic disorders can be brought on by overwhelming anxiety, and anxiety disorders are usually found in people who are also dealing with depression. It is also common for both conditions to co-occur when they appear. 

“It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa,” the ADAA says. “Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.” It also highlights that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) often co-occurs with major depression.

According to VeryWell Mind, people with panic disorder have a greater chance of developing clinical depression, which is the more-severe form of depression, as the Mayo Clinic explains.

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“Research has indicated that approximately half of those diagnosed with panic disorder will have at least one incidence of major depression in their lifetime,” the web publication writes.

The Mayo Clinic, which also confirms it is possible to have both conditions at the same time, advises people to seek treatment for them. That treatment is similar to the methods used to address each condition individually.

“Symptoms of both conditions usually improve with psychological counseling (psychotherapy), medications, such as antidepressants, or both,” it says. “Lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep habits, increasing social support, using stress-reduction techniques, or getting regular exercise, also may help.”

People who have panic disorder and/or depression are advised to stay away from alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs. “They can make both conditions worse and interfere with treatment,” the Mayo Clinic says.

Sources

ADAA. (n.d.). Panic Disorder. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder

ADAA. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

American Academy of Family Physicians. University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria. (1998, May 15) Saeed, S.A., M.D., Bruce, T. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/1998/0515/p2405.html

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M. (2017, May 13). Severe, persistent depression. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/clinical-depression/faq-20057770

Star, K. (2020, April 12). Is It Possible to Have Panic Disorder and Depression at the Same Time? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/can-i-have-panic-disorder-and-depression-2583978

Depression and anxiety can occur together. Read about the connection. (2017, June 02). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/depression-and-anxiety/faq-20057989

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