Diagnosis and Treatment for Depression and Anxiety Disorders

  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment Options
  • Due to the social stigma surrounding depression and anxiety disorders, and the misconception that symptoms will just go away, many people experiencing the emotional and physical symptoms of these conditions do not see their doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

    Although depression and anxiety disorders are very serious conditions, they also are very treatable. Most people will respond to some form of therapy. The goal of treatment is the remission (virtual elimination) of emotional and physical symptoms for at least six months.

    The first step toward obtaining a proper diagnosis is to see a doctor for a complete medical examination. During the visit, the doctor may ask how you are feeling and conduct several tests to see if you have other underlying medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms. Depending on the results of these evaluations, the doctor will select an appropriate treatment regimen.

    It is important to share with your doctor all of the emotional and physical symptoms that you may be experiencing. Patients often are more willing to discuss the physical symptoms they are feeling, but are embarrassed to share their emotional symptoms. By not communicating both emotional and physical symptoms, your doctor may not have an accurate depiction of your condition, which could affect your diagnosis.

    Take a self-assessment to determine
    if you might be suffering from the
    emotional and/or physical symptoms of
    depression or an anxiety disorder.

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    Treatment Options
    If you or someone you know is diagnosed with depression and/or an anxiety disorder, a doctor may recommend psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), prescribe medication to help relieve the emotional and physical symptoms, or suggest a combination of both. Depending on the patient, one type of treatment may work better than another.

    It is important to work closely with your doctor to find a treatment regimen that works best for you. Many medications are available to treat the emotional and physical symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. Some medications help relieve the symptoms of both conditions, while others are indicated to treat only specific illnesses. Often, patients need to try several different medications and dosages before finding the regimen that gets them back to feeling like themselves. Don’t give up, however, because living virtually symptom free is an achievable goal.

    Below are some commonly used prescription treatments:

    • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) antidepressants increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, two brain chemicals thought to be associated with the symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.
    • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants affect the level of serotonin in the brain.
    • MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) and tricyclics (TCAs) also are used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. Once considered first-line treatments, these medications are now rarely used due to their unpleasant side effects.
    • Anxiolytics, often referred to as benzodiazepines, are prescription drugs that relieve the emotional and physical symptoms of certain anxiety disorders.

    It is important to give your medication time to work, and you should continue taking it even if you begin to feel better. The amount of time a patient should continue to take their medication depends upon many factors, including how they respond to the drug. Before discontinuing or reducing your dose of any depression or anxiety disorder medication, you should consult your doctor.

    Non-Medication Therapy
    Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy”, may be used either alone or in combination with medication. Psychotherapy can involve only the individual patient, or include friends and family members. Below are examples:

    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps change the negative patterns of thinking and behaving, often associated with depression and anxiety disorders.
    • Interpersonal therapy focuses on disturbed personal relationships that cause and increase depression and anxiety symptoms.
    • Psychodynamic therapy helps depression and anxiety disorder patients better understand themselves and the way they deal with unconscious conflicts.
    • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is particularly useful for individuals whose depression is severe or life threatening, or who cannot take medication. ECT often is effective in cases where medication does not provide sufficient relief of symptoms or has failed.

    For More Information About Depression and Anxiety Disorders:

    Anxiety Disorders Association of America

    Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

    The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

    National Institute of Mental Health

    National Mental Health Association

    Screening for Mental Health

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