Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week

The Pandemic has anxiety and depression on the rise: It’s okay to get help.

More than 60 million Americans suffer from anxiety and depression in an average year, including teens and children. But this past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on many areas of everyone’s lives, especially mental health. Now more than ever, it’s critical to talk about our mental health struggles so we can reduce the stigma and make it easier for those in need to reach out for help.

As part of May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, this week in May is focused on talking about anxiety and depression, the two most common mental health disorders in America. Many people with anxiety and depression suffer in silence, leading to other potentially debilitating physical and mental health problems that can impact all areas of their life. So before the challenges of life that cause stress and anxiety build-up, it’s important to know the signs of anxiety and depression, and how to take steps to get help.

Understanding Anxiety

Everyone worries over things, which is a normal part of everyday life. However, when those normal worries become excessive it can cause severe anxiety in some people. This past year the pandemic has caused Americans to worry even more about themselves and their family members than in the past. An annual poll from the American Psychiatric Association shows that more people have reported anxiety this year than last year at the same time. More than half of American parents say they’re worried about their kids’ mental health, too. It’s clear that the pandemic has increased anxiety.

Coping with Anxiety During Coronavirus

About 1 in 3 American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, yet only one-third reach out for treatment. It’s important to know that anxiety disorders are not a sign of weakness, and are very treatable with help from a mental health professional.

Anxiety disorders are described as excessive fear or worry caused by anticipation of a threat or conflict. They are caused by a combination of genetics, environmental factors, brain chemistry, and life events (including this past year’s pandemic). They can include: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and other specific phobias.

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • restlessness,
  • fatigue,
  • irritability,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • racing thoughts,
  • insomnia and other sleeping issues, and
  • hyper-vigilance.

Anxiety disorders that disrupt one’s ability to function in day-to-day activities are not normal and can affect physical parts of the body’s health such as:

  • excessive sweating,
  • digestive issues,
  • increased heart rate or palpitations,
  • stomachaches,
  • muscle aches,
  • breathing issues, and
  • panic attacks.

If you’ve experienced anxiety, you’re not alone. Sometimes people worry that others might look down on them if they admit they’ve experienced anxiety or are seeking treatment. But mental health is an important part of our overall health care, and anxiety, in particular, is very treatable with professional help.

Understanding Depression

Depression is a very common condition that affects more than 17 million Americans, a number that rose this past year. The number of American youth diagnosed with depression also rose this past year, and now affects almost 1 in 10. It is considered the leading cause of disability worldwide.

The Mental Health America online depression screening project saw an enormous increase in the use of their depression screening tool, and it showed that users said they experienced a much higher proportion of moderate to severe symptoms of depression in the past year compared to before the pandemic. Users also said they experienced more feelings of loneliness, isolation, and thoughts of suicide. Other recent studies also have shown that depression has increased during the pandemic.

Depression goes beyond feelings of sadness. It can include:

  • paralyzing fatigue,
  • a sense of hopelessness,
  • diminished interest in everyday activities,
  • a significant increase or decrease in appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain,
  • inability to concentrate or make decisions,
  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt,
  • feelings of irritability, and
  • recurrent thoughts about planning or attempting suicide.

Depression can range from moderate to severe, and sometimes affects people only at certain times, such as postpartum depression or seasonal affective disorder. If left untreated, depression can cause difficulty functioning in day-to-day life. However, treatment for depression can be very effective in relieving symptoms and improving one’s ability to function.

It’s okay not to be okay

Knowing that both anxiety and depression are on the rise after the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to understand it’s okay to share our struggles with one another and reach out for help with our mental health. Having anxiety or depression doesn’t mean you’re weak; in fact, there’s strength in asking for help. Untreated anxiety or depression can lead to bigger problems, so getting help from a mental health professional is the right thing to do.

Anxiety and depression can impact all areas of our life, and taking time for self-care, including both physical and mental health, is critical.

Self-care can include:

  • getting a good night’s sleep,
  • daily exercise,
  • eating well,
  • taking care of your hygiene and appearance,
  • avoiding alcohol and drugs,
  • connecting with others who enjoy similar interests, and
  • treating yourself to something positive you enjoy, such as reading or listening to music.

Some people also find that practicing mindfulness, meditation, or journaling can help calm and release difficult emotions.

Getting help

If you or a loved one has a problem with anxiety or depression, don’t struggle alone. Help is available and can make a big difference in how you get along in daily life. Try out the free online depression screening tool. Then, talk with your doctor or mental health professional to get an accurate diagnosis so the right treatment plan can be started. It may include counseling, medication, or both.

The mental health care team at Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry is available with support and help for anyone struggling with anxiety and depression. We can treat adults as well as children and adolescents. Most insurance plans are accepted, and you do not need a referral from your primary care provider unless required by your insurance. To request an appointment, call our office at (479) 571-6363 or request an appointment online through your myMANA portal account.

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