The difference between major depression, anxiety disorders and healthy emotional ranges lies in ones ability to function or get better. Healthy emotional ranges can easily include a sense of anxiety or despair – but those emotions do not impair functioning, nor lead to things such as psychosis, avoidance or substance abuse.
Major depression and anxiety disorders are almost always severe in nature, impacting ones daily life significantly. These disorders are not easily overcome by distraction, sunlight, exercise or other coping mechanisms.
Misuse of mental illness labels leads to the assumption that “normal” emotional ranges are what mental illness actually feels like. This can easily lead to people saying things such as, “I got better with fresh air and exercise, so can you,” when in reality, they were never sick to begin with.
Here we will dive into the fundamental differences between these ranges and mental illness itself. Of course, within mental illness, there also lies a severity range. Not all depression (for example), is the same. There are variants and degrees of suffering within each disorder, which will also be addressed here.
Anxiety Disorder vs. Situational Worry
Normal: Worrying over particular events (presentations, meetings, work, every day life), but functioning is not impaired by the situational worry or general stress.
Anxiety Disorder: Panic attacks over situational events, or without any known trigger at all. Sensations such as racing heart, impending doom, derealization, dizziness, weight loss, insomnia and avoidance.
Health Anxiety: Often considered a “mild psychosis,” health anxiety carries moderate to severe symptom ranges. Functioning is almost always impaired to some degree. This is not the same as worrying about a legitimate physical disease present. Health anxiety entails a core belief that one is ill when they are not.
Social Anxiety: Symptoms can be moderate or severe. Social anxiety may not impair functioning, but it can easily lead to avoidant behaviors such as quitting jobs, skipping events and isolating. This is not the same as being somewhat shy in social situations.
Panic Disorder: Symptom range is severe in nature, impairing functioning. Sleep, appetite, weight and general well-being is affected. This is not the same as moments of high stress. Panic attacks are severe in nature, and can happen without a trigger, as in nocturnal panic attacks.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms can be moderate to severe. Impairment depends on the severity of the disorder.
A Note On Dysphoric Mania and Mania: Sometimes mania (as in bipolar disorder) can manifest symptoms of extreme anxiety, inner restlessness and agitation. This type of anxiety is extreme in nature, usually requiring immediate treatment.
Major Depression vs. Normal Sadness
Normal: Situations that cause temporary periods of grief, sadness or low mood. Low mood is overcome by distraction (sunlight, exercise or a change in diet etc.). Functioning is not impaired by emotions.
Major Depression: Functioning can be moderately to severely impaired by symptoms. Low mood is accompanied by changes in appetite (significant), sleep disturbance, restlessness, agitation, panic attacks, despair, hopelessness and possibly psychosis.
Major Depression: Symptoms are severe in nature. Functioning is usually impaired significantly. Weight loss or gain, nausea and other physical symptoms may be present. Symptoms are not easily overcome by standard coping mechanisms.
Agitated Depression: Symptoms are severe. Inner restlessness and agitation may impair functioning so severely, hospitalization may be necessary. This is not the same as being periodically irritable. The symptoms are typically unbearable in nature.
Dysthymia: Chronic low mood that is persistent may be moderate to severe in nature, possibly impacting daily functioning.
Manic-Depression: Cycling between mania and depression is severe in nature. Symptoms can impact every day life, impairing functioning. This is not the same as having a really good day, followed by a really bad day.
Why this is important to know…
The more we use the terms, “depression and anxiety,” as adjectives for typical emotional ranges, the less they describe the true conditions they entail.
Everyone has anxiety to some degree, and everyone experiences sadness of varying depths. The difference lies in ones inability to function or overcome these emotions or physical symptoms using normal coping mechanisms.
Once a threshold is crossed, depression and anxiety become a very real change within the brain and nervous system. Once changes in the brain and nervous system occur, it is extremely difficult to return to normal functioning.
We have to stop applying these labels to everyday events that warrant very human, natural responses. Those who suffer with severe mental illness are turned away, belittled and mocked for having conditions that are not within their control. They possess emotional ranges that are severely abnormal in comparison, and not within their realm of immediate control.
Getting better is achieved in different ways in those who have the disorder(s) versus those who do not. Those without the disorder may easily cope with symptoms of healthy emotional stress using various coping mechanisms. Those with the disorder(s) require a more complex range of treatment, as the condition is much more pervasive in nature.
To read more about anxiety, see http://circumnavigating-madness.com/2019/11/19/stop-telling-people-its-just-anxiety/