According to a recent study conducted by Oliver J. Robinson of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Section on Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety in Maryland, individuals with depression may be at increased risk for anxiety. The comorbidity of depression and anxiety disorders (ADs) is extremely high in the clinical population. The presence of either AD or depression alone can significantly impair an individual’s quality of life. But when these conditions are co-occurring, the psychological, physical, financial, and social ramifications can be devastating. People who have anxiety with depression often have decreased treatment response rates and higher suicide rates than individuals with depression or anxiety alone.
Existing research has suggested that these two issues often co-occur because one can increase the risk of developing the other. Specifically, people with depression may be more vulnerable to anxiety because of the neurocognitive effects of depression. For his study, Robinson conducted tests on nondepressed, nonanxious individuals to determine if sadness predisposed anxiety. He exposed 18 individuals to a sad mood condition and 18 to a neutral mood condition and then conducted a predicted or unpredicted shock experiment to elicit fearful or anxious startle responses, respectively.
Robinson discovered that the participants who were exposed to the sad mood condition had higher levels of anxious responses than those exposed to the neutral condition. This did not occur in the predicted, fear-eliciting shock experiment. This suggests that sadness creates extreme sensitivity in the anxiety response network. Therefore, if this dynamic occurs in individuals with no history of depression or anxiety, one could theorize that individuals with depression would be more vulnerable to anxiety sensitivity than those without depression. In sum, Robinson believes that these findings demonstrate a reciprocal relationship between anxiety and depression in individuals with comorbidity. He added, “Clarifying the causes of comorbidity is a crucial step towards an improved ability to treat the underlying abnormalities.”
Robinson, O. J., Overstreet, C., Letkiewicz, A., Grillon, C. (2012). Depressed mood enhances anxiety to unpredictable threat. Psychological Medicine, 42.7, 1397-1407.
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