Anxiety is a characteristic feature of most people. In it’s ‘normal’ form, it helps with vigilance, learning and general performance. In short, anxiety is useful. However, in excess it starts to work against us. Extremes of self-focus and apprehension quickly reduce attention and performance, perhaps aggravated by that particular blend of emotions (such as anger, shame, guilt or sadness mixing with a dominating fear) that make up each person’s unique ‘anxiety’.
Anxiety and feelings of stress are symptoms, a response to pressure – the more intolerable or persistent the pressure, the worse the anxiety. And this does not necessarily mean a single, overwhelming difficulty. More often it is an accumulation of things.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is possibly the most common anxiety disorder, affecting 5-6% of the population. It is characterised by chronic worry about all sorts of life problems and circumstances. It will differ from normal worrying through the intensity, frequency and perceived uncontrollability of the worry thoughts. There might be a biological basis to GAD where some people are more likely to over-respond to life stressors; and studies of families show there is a chance of some genetic influence.
Depression has nothing to do with ‘weakness’ and there does not seem to be any particular type of person who is more prone to the disorder. The word ‘depression’ is used to cover a very wide range of problems, from short periods of low mood to a lifetime of mind-numbing inability to function. The great majority of cases that involve low mood will sort themselves out and do not require medical intervention. However, at any one time, between 5% and 10% of the population are suffering from depression at a level that needs support, and it is likely that 20% of us will have a depressive episode of some kind during our lifetime.
It is likely that about half the people with clinical depression will also have another mental health problem, such as an anxiety disorder. Those suffered by children and adolescents might be in the area of behavioural or attention difficulties.
Depression can affect anyone, but, as can be seen with anxiety disorders, there do seem to be certain ‘risk factors’ that make the problem more likely. These include childhood abuse, severe trauma, having a grandparent or parent with the problem, or losing a parent whilst very young. The latter situation might involve losing any significant adult who lives in close proximity to the child.