The Overlap Between Anxiety Disorder and Depression: Navigating Dual Diagnoses

The Overlap Between Anxiety Disorder and Depression: Navigating Dual Diagnoses

Team ERP Therapy

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health issues plaguing Americans today. According to Forbes, almost 20% of Americans have an anxiety disorder, making it the most common group of mental illnesses in the U.S. Rates of those who have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life have risen sharply since 2015, peaking at a whopping 29% of American adults in 2023, according to Gallup polls. While having just one of these disorders is bad enough, many people deal with symptoms of both simultaneously. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that around 60% of people diagnosed with anxiety will also have symptoms of depression, and the same is true for those diagnosed with depression having symptoms of anxiety disorder. The connection between these two conditions is simply undeniable. In this post, we’ll explore the overlap between anxiety and depression, review the most common signs and symptoms of both, and discuss the best ways for treating these conditions together.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is actually a collection of disorders known as anxiety disorders, which can include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, and more. Anxiety disorders are typically defined by a constant, nagging fear or worry about what may or may not happen. This worry is often over things that the patient cannot actually control. Symptoms may include rapid heartbeat, nervousness, fear, agitation, uneasiness, and dread. It’s important to note that a small amount of anxiety about certain situations is normal, as long as it passes quickly once the situation has resolved. However, excessive anxiety over situations that don’t warrant it is a problem.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that leaves the sufferer feeling sad, hopeless, disinterested, and maybe even suicidal. Depression is more than just the passing blues…it can come on quickly for no reason and last for years if not treated properly. It can affect interpersonal relationships, make it hard for the sufferer to work or even complete daily activities, and can even lead to unexplained medical issues.

Understanding the Connection

Anxiety plus depression makes up one of the most common comorbidities in healthcare. As stated above, the majority of people diagnosed with one of these conditions will also experience symptoms of the other. But why are these disorders so interconnected? The answer is not clear. Even though anxiety and depression are two of the most researched mental illnesses, with scores of studies available on the individual conditions, they are not often researched together. This leaves us with a serious knowledge gap that adversely affects the care of millions of Americans each year.

While we don’t know the exact reason why anxiety and depression are so common together, we do have a few theories:

  1. Anxiety and depression exist together as a vicious cycle, with symptoms of one seeming to activate symptoms of the other in an endless loop.
  2. Anxiety and depression have many overlapping symptoms, so it is hard for medical professionals to distinguish one from the other.
  3. Anxiety and depression activate similar biological pathways, causing symptoms of each illness to show up at the same time.

While the exact cause of the connection between anxiety and depression may not be fully understood, we do know that anyone who has these two conditions simultaneously is much harder to treat and will likely experience a much more severe impact on their functioning and life than someone who only has symptoms of one condition. The coexistence of these two disorders makes treatment quite complicated and requires a personalized treatment approach that addresses symptoms of both disorders simultaneously.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Comorbid Anxiety & Depression

As mentioned above, anxiety disorders and depression have many overlapping symptoms, which makes identifying them difficult when a dual diagnosis is suspected. The most common symptoms to look out for with anxiety and depression comorbidity include:

  • Persistent worry or fear
  • Inability to complete daily activities
  • Profound sense of sadness or hopelessness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Avoiding activities that were once enjoyed

Recognizing the symptoms of comorbid anxiety and depression is the first step on the journey to recovery. Once it is clear that both anxiety and depression are playing a role in a patient’s illness, professionals trained in treating these coexisting mental illnesses can develop a plan to best treat both issues at once.

Navigating Dual Diagnoses

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating comorbid anxiety and depression. Each patient presents with a unique background, different lifestyle, and varying severity of symptoms. After a thorough health history and examination, a qualified medical professional can determine which treatment option is best for the patient based on their distinctive situation. Some popular treatment options for anxiety and depression occurring together include:

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy changes to one’s lifestyle, including eating a healthier diet, getting enough sleep, and practicing mindfulness daily, can be some of the most effective treatments for anxiety and depression. These changes don’t require any type of medical intervention or cost, so they’re sensible first steps for anyone trying to deal with the issues brought on by coexisting anxiety and depression. Building a strong support network of family or friends is also important for long-term success in battling mental illness.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an evidence-based treatment modality proven effective in treating both anxiety and depression. CBT focuses on helping people challenge self-destructive thoughts with logic, slowly replacing those thoughts with healthier ones. CBT is one of the most popular treatment techniques for dually diagnosed anxiety and depression.


Medications, particularly antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs, are often used to curb the feelings and thoughts associated with both anxiety and depression. While medications shouldn’t be a long-term solution, they can be a great way to get in front of symptoms at first until CBT or lifestyle changes can be implemented.

Integrated Treatment Plans

Research shows that medical professionals who take a more holistic approach to patient care, especially when mental illness is involved, tend to have more positive outcomes. Find a mental health professional who seeks and encourages collaboration with other medical professionals, such as primary care doctors, nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and more. By creating an integrated treatment plan that involves multiple aspects of the patient’s health, mental health providers can see rapid improvement and significant improvement in multiple areas of the patient’s life.

Continuous Monitoring

Patients should stick to routine follow-up visits with not just mental health professionals, but with all members of the treatment team. This way symptoms can be monitored continuously and adjustments to the treatment plan can be made as needed, further improving patient outcomes in managing both anxiety and depression.

Visit New England’s Premier Psychiatry Practice

Anxiety disorders and depression seem to go hand in hand, but by recognizing the signs and seeking integrated, comprehensive treatment, patients can still lead fulfilling lives. Don’t be afraid to seek help for these commonly co-occuring conditions, as this is the only way to achieve optimal health and well-being. For compassionate, competent treatment of both anxiety disorders and depression in New England, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, trust the qualified team at South County Psychiatry. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step on your journey to a healthier mind, body, and soul today!