New Study Suggests Depression May Increase Vulnerability to Anxiety

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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  • josie


    June 4th, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    I am so glad that the word is out that these two things so often go hand in hand, and yet for too long we have received treatment for one and not the other. What good is trying to get better when there are still these underlying currents of disorder that keep us from recovering to our fullest potential? I think that a lot of clinicians have thought in the past that if we treat the one thing then the other will naturally disappear, but those of us who have suffered know that this is not often the case. We may begin to feel somewhat better, but we know there is more, that we have so much more potential than that which we are being prescribed. There is hope, so we can’t give up on that search for a better life and enjoyment than what we may have been forced to settle for in the past. I know that it is out there, and I am so glad that the journey toward learning more is continuing.

  • faith


    June 4th, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    I am more and more convinced that it is rare for a person to exhibit only one mental illness. It seems like unfortunately so many of them tend to go hand in hand.

  • Oliver


    June 5th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    when something like depression has you in its grips then it is hard to battle even the smaller things that otherwise may not have ever bothered you before.

  • Ross


    June 5th, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    I don’t think that there is anyone out there who treats mentally ill patients who would even stoop to believe that there is only going to be one thing in a patients life which is causing them to have a difficult time. I think that most doctors and counselors today recognize enough about mental illness and development that they see that many times one will breed another. It is really that simple. Of course I am not saying that treating all of this can be simple because I would guess that you have to dig pretty deep to get to the root cause of all of the issues that are presenting. But there is simply no need to think that you are only treating one illness here, because I think that for most people who are really struggling, there are usually multiple issues which have to be addressed.

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