National Anxiety & Depression Awareness Week
Over 18% of all adults in the U.S. have some sort of anxiety disorder, but only about a third of those affected seek treatment. By shining a light on the various permutations of depression and anxiety that often lurk in the shadows, we can better understand our neighbors, our loved ones, and ourselves.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF AWARENESS
Dating back all the way to 1949, a group called the National Association for Mental Health (now known as Mental Health America) led the charge to designate May as Mental Health Month. It has been recognized by Congress, and even gets an annual presidential proclamation to commemorate the importance of the month.
Over the decades, diagnoses and attitudes have evolved, so one week was specialized to encapsulate the unique challenges of anxiety and depression. The torch was then passed to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the calendar was rearranged, and NAMI designated the second week in October to be Mental Illness Awareness Week.
While we should maintain this level of understanding year round, it’s important to celebrate these milestones to initiate and/or continue the vital national conversations about anxiety and depression.
TYPES OF ANXIETY
Anxiety affects a staggering 18% of the U.S. population. This condition can take many forms, so it’s important to understand which category defines your specific set of behaviors.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This form of anxiety is traced back to an instigating event. Combat soldiers are often most closely associated with PTSD, but it can also affect children of abuse as well as rape victims.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) – The fear of social interaction afflicts approximately 15 million Americans and can be devastating to those who experience it. The tendency to avoid parties, public spaces, and even job interviews has a debilitating effect on those who suffer from SAD.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – We all worry about the stresses in our lives, but when one’s mind is occupied to the point of distraction, this may be diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Work, school, finances, relationships – they can all trigger GAD episodes, and treatment varies from meditation to therapy to anti-anxiety medication.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – When the aforementioned stresses boil over into fully obsessive behavior, it could be a symptom of OCD. Telltale mannerisms include repetitive ticks, crippling mysophobia (aka germophobia) and aggressive outbursts when your routine is disturbed.
Panic Disorder (PD) – Some anxiety attacks erupt seemingly out of nowhere. These are characterized by rapid heart palpitations, shortness of breath, excessive flop seat, and paresthesia (numbness or tingling in your extremities).
MISCONCEPTIONS, MYTHS, AND MISTAKES
Every psychological condition invites unwanted stigmas, but anxiety carries a unique subset of misconceptions with it. People may think you’re weak or making a big deal out of nothing, or that you just need to avoid certain trigger situations to eradicate your anxiety, but it’s far more complicated than that. Not every case is the same, and they don’t all stem from childhood trauma. You can’t simply blame your past when panic attacks happen in the here and now. Also, medication isn’t the cure-all for a condition with such a plethora of variations. Know yourself, know your options, and know that you’re not alone.
ANXIETY → DEPRESSION
The link between anxiety and depression is profound. An estimated 50% of individuals who suffer from depression also struggle with a diagnosed form of anxiety. The pressures of panic attacks and generalized social phobias prompt anxious individuals to withdraw and isolate themselves. This exacerbates their sense of alienation, triggering a snowball effect. More anxiety leads to more withdrawal and the entire process can lead to depression.
When depression accumulates, amplifies, and persists, it can lead to thoughts of suicide. The signs may be as overt as expressing a desire to die, but they may be more subtle:
- Your loved one may act easily defeated or lacking in hope for a better outcome to a simple problem.
- He or she may drink excessively to dull the pain of depression.
- Suicidal individuals often accept blame for events that have nothing to do with them; they simply feel so much guilt or shame that they invite further scrutiny.
- Sometimes, they want the world to see them as they see themselves, which may not be a fair assessment when they’re in the throes of depression.
- If your loved one is stocking up on pills or coveting items such as knives or guns, these are fatalistic patterns of behavior that may lead to suicide.
- When someone engages in reckless behavior like speeding or fighting, it shows a lack of will to live.
- On the other end of the spectrum, some individuals considering suicide withdraw from society altogether.
- Some people contemplating suicide plan ahead by saying goodbye to loved ones or arranging what they want to happen after they pass away.
- If these signals seem familiar either to your own behavioral patterns or those of someone you love, please don’t ignore them. Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the United States, claiming a tragic 40,000 victims per year.Don’t be a statistic; take a stand… or better yet, take a walk!
OUT OF THE DARKNESS WALK
Thousands of caring individuals gather throughout the year to stretch their legs and spread their love of awareness at a series of walks called Out of the Darkness. As the name suggests, mental health is an issue that should be brought out of obscurity and into the light. To join the Los Angeles walk this October, register here – see you on the sunny side of the street!