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Anxiety and depression are two of the more common mental health disorders that are diagnosed in the United States. While awareness has grown, however, support in daily life may suffer as more people regard the disorders as commonplace.

Increased awareness has not affected the occurrence of symptoms, which can result in irritability and edginess that comes out in regular everyday tasks and interactions. The high level of negative moods can limit simple life tasks, and a strong support system is critical for those who suffer from anxiety or depression.

Anxiety and depression share many symptoms and both can negatively affect daily life if a strong support system is not in place. Because the two disorders are often diagnosed together, Matt R. Judah and colleagues at the Department of Psychology at Oklahoma State University sought to better understand the relationship between them.

Based on an understanding provided through earlier research that many individuals diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder eventually develop major depressive disorder, Judah wanted to examine the factors that lead to this development. Insight into the relationship would be helpful because the two disorders are the most common involved in cases or comorbidity.

Judah recruited undergraduate college students and then measured symptoms of anxiety, depression, worry and negative life events. The students were evaluated three times over 12 weeks to establish whether there was a pattern of development between the disorders.

Judah included worry as a factor in the study because it is not only a symptom of anxiety, but also has been recognized as a risk factor for the diagnosis of depression. The study also included negative life events as a measured factor, but included only those events that were within a participant’s control. Examples might include arriving late at work or missing a deadline.

The researchers wanted to include the negative events because previous research has supported them as a cause for stress and anxiety, which are predictors for depressive symptoms in those who have a diagnosis of anxiety.

The analysis showed that after considering the three waves of assessment, there was a distinct cycle recognizable in the results. Specifically, anxiety, depression and negative life events acted as a cycle that repeated in individuals with anxiety reported at the first interview.

Those who reported symptoms of anxiety at the first round of questions were more likely to have depression at the second round, and reported more negative life events at the third stage of the study.

While worry did not predict an increased likelihood of developing depression, it played a key role in predicting the severity of anxiety. Judah believes that some of the physical symptoms of anxiety can increase stress, which leads to negative moods and depression.

In the cycle, the depression then leads to negative events within the individual’s control, such as being late to work, because the individual’s mood is being affected by the depression. In the end, the symptoms of both anxiety and depression are being increased.

The findings for this study can be found in a recent issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

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