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Anxiety, depression and mental health

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety during their lifetime. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an examination or having a medical test or job interview.

Feeling anxious sometimes is perfectly normal. However, for people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), feelings of anxiety are much more constant and tend to affect their day-to-day life. There are several conditions for which anxiety is the main symptom. Panic disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic syndrome can all cause severe anxiety.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is a long-term condition that makes people feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event.

People with GAD find that they feel anxious most days, and will often struggle to remember the last time that they felt relaxed. GAD can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. GAD affects approximately one in 50 people at some stage during their lifetime. Slightly more women are affected than men, and the disorder is most common during your 20s.

GAD can significantly affect your daily life, making it difficult for you to perform everyday tasks. However, there are several different treatment options available, which can help ease both your psychological and physical symptoms.

Understanding depression

Depression is often an illness. If you are depressed, the usual feelings of sadness that we all experience temporarily remain for weeks, months and years. They can be so intense that daily life is affected. You can not work normally, you don't want to be with your family and friends, and you stop enjoying the things you usually do.

If you experience depression, you may feel worthless, hopeless and constantly tired. In most cases, if you have milder depression, you can probably carry on but will find everyday tasks difficult. If you have severe depression, you may find your feelings so unbearable that you start thinking about suicide. 

About one in 10 of us develops some form of depression in our lives, and one in 50 has severe depression. It affects not only those with depression, but also their families and friends.

Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a chronic (long-term) condition that may require long-term management or treatment. Some people only have depression once, but many people have repeated episodes.

An episode of depression commonly involves a number of events that combine to take you into a downward spiral. Studies suggest women are about twice as likely to have depression as men, but this may be because women are more likely to seek help.

Some studies have suggested depression is more likely as we get older and it is more common among people who face difficult social and economic circumstances.

Depression is complex and the risk of developing it may increase if you:

  • Experience a stressful life event such as bereavement or a relationship breakdown. It takes most people time to come to terms with these kind of events. You are at a higher risk of depression if, when these stressful events happen, you stop seeing friends and family and try to deal with things on your own. 
  • Are diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness such as coronary heart disease or cancer. 
  • Are vulnerable to depression due to certain personality traits, e.g. low self-esteem or being overly self-critical. This may be due to genes you have inherited from your family, or your personality or early life experiences, which can each have a profound effect on the way you think about yourself in later life. 
  • Have a history of depression in your family. Research shows that there are some genes that increase the risk of depression after a stressful life event. 
  • Have recently given birth. Some women are particularly vulnerable after pregnancy. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can lead to postnatal depression. 
  • Are cut off from family and friends. Social isolation may be a risk factor for depression, or a response to feeling depressed as the downward spiral takes hold. 
  • Drink excessively or use drugs. Substance abuse can be a cause of depression. Use of drugs such as cannabis and cocaine can also lead to feelings of depression. Some people try to cope by drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs. This can result in a spiral of depression where the isolation, alcohol or drugs make you feel worse about yourself so you isolate yourself and drink or take drugs even more

Getting help as soon as you think you may have depression may prevent your depression getting worse. The exact causes of depression are not fully known. It seems more likely to occur if there is depression in the family, but having a relative with depression does not mean you will necessarily become depressed yourself. Furthermore, there are a number of lifestyle factors or influences in the world around you that may increase the risk of you developing depression.

The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people make a full recovery from depression. It is important to seek help from your GP if you think you may be depressed.

Mental health

Although GPs are able to help most people to manage depression, for some people, particularly those with more severe depression or where treatment is not successful, more specialised care may be needed.

Cornwall Mental Health has a wealth of information, including forums and articles, as well as a directory of the county's mental health services on their website.

The website is aimed at people living with mental health issues, carers and anyone wanting to learn more about mental health. You can find leaflets and self help advice on a range of issues, including dealing with stress and anxiety, and where to go for more help.