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Currently there are 3.2 million Australians experiencing depression or anxiety or both. Neighbours on the mental health spectrum, anxiety and depression share a set of overlapping symptoms, which can make it hard to differentiate the two. However, they do have distinguishing features and separate treatment options. Anxiety is a common emotional response to events that are dangerous or stressful, whereas depression is a common emotional response to events that are disappointing or upsetting. For the purpose of diagnostic and treatment purposes, let’s explore the difference between anxiety and depression.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to overwhelming stress or fear. A little anxiety can be completely healthy; it triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response in preparation for impending danger. When recurrent anxiety isn’t specifically linked to an event, threat or danger, an anxiety disorder may be diagnosed. This can manifest in the form of uncontrollable panic attacks, insomnia, increased heart rate, low mood, hot flushes, intense worry, nausea, difficulty in breathing, and/or feeling out of control. Someone with an anxiety disorder may display fear and avoidant behaviours as they struggle to follow daily routines, hit deadlines, keep in touch with friends and/or attend important events.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that goes beyond feeling down or hosting a bad mood. It’s a mental health condition charaterised by prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness, failure and/or apathy. Depression can manifest in emotional patterns that affect a person’s ability to make decisions, take actions, and live life as per their normal. Someone with depression may lose interest in things that once brought joy, experience weight loss or weight gain, express unworthiness, seem constantly deflated, and/or have thoughts of or contemplate suicide.

What is the difference between anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression share a similar biological foundation in that recurrent states of anxiety and depression involve a change in neurotransmitter function. They also share a set of overlapping symptoms and are linked to low levels of serotonin. However, beyond these similarities, anxiety and depression are experienced differently and in relation to separate sets of emotions. Anxiety is identified as a disorder linked to feelings of worry, stress and fear, whereas depression is linked to feelings of sadness and apathy. Anxiety and depression require different treatment plans and thus it’s vital to speak with your trusted healthcare professional if you experience symptoms of either condition.

This guide is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.