Anxiety and a First Depressive Episode

Sometimes mental health conditions are buy-one-get-one-free. Anxiety and depression are an example of two conditions that often come in a package deal.

Recently, researchers in China designed a study to learn a little more about what it means when anxiety and depression team up. They focused on people experiencing a first episode of depression who hadn’t yet been treated with antidepressants.

Among the 1,718 first-time depression patients they surveyed, clinical levels of anxiety symptoms turned out to be extremely common. In fact, anxiety was more common than not, with four out of five patients meeting the threshold for anxiety.

Anxiety tended to increase the severity of depression’s effects. Twenty-four percent of people with anxiety and unmedicated, first-time depression had attempted suicide, compared to three percent without anxiety. Similarly, 12 percent of those with anxiety had experienced psychotic symptoms, compared to less than one percent of those without anxiety.

In terms of demographic characteristics, the study participants with and without anxiety tended to be the same. There were no meaningful differences in terms of gender, age (the average age for both groups was 35), or education level. But the group who had anxiety symptoms on top of their first depressive episode experienced more severe effects.

There are a couple practical takeaways from these findings. The first is that, for those already experiencing anxiety symptoms, it’s always better to seek help for anxiety before major depression enters the equation too. Anxiety is a serious mental health condition in its own right, and seeking treatment from a mental health professional can be life-changing.

For people who are already experiencing both anxiety and depression, this point is doubly true. As this study shows, anxiety symptoms tend to compound the effects of depression. These are both conditions where mental health professionals can make a real difference, so people confronting both at once have a lot to gain by seeking treatment and support.