Left untreated, depression and anxiety may cause both physical and mental complications. Suicide is not uncommon among people with depression or anxiety disorders. Attempts to “self-medicate” the disorder may lead to substance abuse and alcoholism. Social anxiety can become so intense that agoraphobia develops, making it difficult to leave the house.
Treating the anxiety disorder or depression may prevent and resolve some complications associated with the disease. Other mal-adaptive coping behaviors, such as alcoholism, often require separate treatment and may continue long after the disorder that caused them.
Agoraphobia, put simply, is the fear of open or public spaces. Repeated panic attacks or social anxiety often leads to avoidance behavior. The anxiety sufferer goes to great lengths to avoid those areas where their anxiety tends to get worse. People with depression may avoid social situations because they’re afraid their flat affect may cause embarrassing questions. A simple question like, “How are you?” may be too complicated to answer truthfully. Over time, avoidance behaviors can generalize and expand to trap people in their own houses.
Loss of sex drive is a common symptom for people with depression. The interest and energy required for an active sex life are simply not present during a depression. Long-term effects may include loss of self-esteem, and relationship problems. Treating the depression usually restores sexual interest. Note that some antidepressant medications may also decrease sex drive.
Substance Abuse: Alcohol Abuse and Drugs
Substance abuse (both alcohol and drug abuse) often occurs when people attempt to self-treat their disorders. Twenty percent of people with anxiety disorders abuse alcohol and drugs. Alcohol abuse may occur as people drink to either “feel better” or “calm down.” Left unchecked, alcohol abuse can develop into full-blown alcoholism. Conversely, alcoholism increases the likelihood of developing depression or worsening existing depression.
Drug abuse is also a danger for people who are depressed or suffering from anxiety. Anxiety sufferers may turn to tranquillizers or other “calming” drugs in an attempt to relieve anxiety or panic. Self-medication can be as simple as an increased dependence on tobacco or caffeine. Smoking may calm anxiety, and caffeine may help counteract the lethargy of depression.
Sleep disorders are among the most common anxiety and depression disorders. Insomnia is perhaps the best-known type of sleep disorder: anxiety and worry may make sleep impossible. Depression can create a number of sleep disorders: people with depression either suffer from insomnia or sleep too much. Even when sleep seems to come easily, anxiety and depression can prevent sleep from refreshing the body, and people wake up tired. A sleep disorder created by anxiety or depression usually resolves itself with treatment for the underlying mental disorder.
Suicide is, of course, a major concern when treating people with depression. Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness make suicide seem a viable option. Fifteen percent of people who suffer from major depression commit suicide.
People with anxiety disorders are also at risk for suicide. Approximately twenty-five to thirty percent of people with panic disorders consider suicide at some point, and eighteen percent go on to attempt it. Suicide attempts are also a concern for people with OCD and social anxiety: about twelve percent attempt suicide. Appropriate treatment for anxiety and depression is the best prevention for suicide attempts.
Anxiety and depression appear to be associated with a number of possible physical complications. High blood pressure and heart problems may be brought about by chronic anxiety, and depression may lead to suppressed immune systems. Headaches, muscle pains and stomach problems are common to both anxiety and depression sufferers. Over half of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, for example, exhibit signs of anxiety.
Anxiety and depression disorders may create yet more mental disorders. People with anxiety are especially prone to developing depression, and depression can lead to anxiety disorders. Social anxiety can lead to obsessive compulsive disorder. Anxiety and depression disorders can be very fluid, either turning into different types of disorders, or causing new ones.