Are Depression and Anxiety Symptoms of One Clinical Condition?

Depression and anxiety are two of the most commonly occurring comorbid psychological conditions. Research estimates that nearly 65% of people who have a history of generalized anxiety (GAD) also experience symptoms of major depression (MDD). Additionally, a very high percentage of people with MDD have also experienced episodes of GAD. The two conditions share some symptoms, such as memory and concentration problems and impaired sleep. Both GAD and MDD are also believed to be influenced by genetic factors and childhood experiences. However, the two conditions are also thought to have unique and varied course trajectories and symptoms relative to each such as negative affect (in MDD) and fear and worry (in GAD).

Because of these similar and differing dimensions of GAD and MDD, some experts have begun to theorize that perhaps MDD actually covers the symptoms of GAD. To explore this further, Anna Weinberg of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University in New York recently led a study using error-related negativity (ERN) tests to assess the levels of GAD in 26 female participants with GAD, 23 with both MDD and GAD and 36 with no history of either condition. After conducting error response experiments on all of the participants, Weinberg found that the ERN in the individuals with comorbid MDD and GAD was similar to that found in the GAD participants.

This finding suggests that MDD does not enhance the GAD symptoms. In particular, MDD did not produce the same physiological results as GAD. If it did, as some experts theorize, the ERN in the comorbid participants would be higher than the ERN of the participants with GAD alone. The outcome of this study supports evidence that the dimensions and trajectories of GAD and MDD symptoms are not redundant but act in distinct and singular ways. Understanding how these two conditions affect each other and manifest or mask symptoms is an area that warrants further exploration. Weinberg said, “The present results highlight the possible moderating effects of comorbid disorders in GAD and emphasize the need to examine or control for comorbidity in future studies.”

Weinberg, A., Klein, D. N., Hajcak, G. (2012). Increased error-related brain activity distinguishes generalized anxiety disorder with and without comorbid major depressive disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028270

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  • Simone


    June 23rd, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    We must be careful not to over generalize in situations like this for example. Yes, there are many times that I certain that doctors find these two illnesses together, so it could be easy to lump them both together as being one and the same, but is that really the case all of the time?

    I know some very anxious people who of course are down from time to time about the way that their anxieties negatively impact their lives, but clearly not to the point to where they are crippled by the depression.

    The same goes for those who are depressed. Many times they too are anxious about their future and how depression might plague them for a long time, but many, once the depression has been treated, they see this anxiety fade.

    It is all about remembering that each person is different and will experience their disorder in their own way. Let’s remember that their treatments should reflect that.

  • Judy bayne

    Judy bayne

    June 24th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    Thanks for emphasizing that although these two disorders can often be found together, there are still very different ways that they manifest in patients and should be treated as such. Just because it is common to see the two together, this does not mean that the same therapies will treat both, and as a matter of fact we may not even know just how deeply someone is plagued by one until the other is under control.



    June 25th, 2012 at 12:27 AM

    Never good to ASSUME in the medical field I completely agree. But if two conditions co occur then their behavior might just change a little bit compared to what it would have. Een ba they occurred independent of each other.

    So a study on a case by case basis needs to be conducted if we are to select the best treatment methodology for these patients coming in with either one of these or both together.

  • Simmons


    June 25th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Just because they share some of the same symptoms does not make them the same thing

    Doesn’t cancer share some of the same traits as other diseases, but we know that those would not be the same?

    It’s the exact same thing here.

  • simone


    June 26th, 2012 at 12:32 AM

    what’s on in the individual needs to be given importance and not the global stats.if the two co-occur in an individual then the appropriate treatment should follow and if one occurs without the other then the corresponding treatment should that so hard?

  • Tim


    September 1st, 2012 at 3:32 AM

    I think its not!. Still that two (also autism) are belong to psychological disorder. Anyways, still there are natural way of preventing them or curing them.

    Stress = sleep or relax
    Depress = happiness from your friends
    Autism = social interaction,bonding with friends

    Easy tips but helpful

  • Springdale Clinic

    Springdale Clinic

    January 9th, 2013 at 2:49 AM

    Interesting article!I have heard that anxiety attacks can be a side-effect of antidepressant medications and this may be were the connection comes in to play. But, anxiety is a side-effect for only the first 7 to 10 days after starting an antidepressant. Then there is always the interesting fact that most antidepressants work to treat both depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Therefore, they obviously may have some connection.

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