Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health struggles that teens experience. There may be some overlap in symptoms, but depression and anxiety in troubled teens are different conditions that commonly occur together. More than 40% of teens who struggle with one disorder struggle with the other. The University of British Columbia offers a possible explanation for this in a recent study where they found that patients with mood and anxiety disorders share the same abnormalities in regions of the brain involved in emotional and cognitive control. 

Overlap Between Symptoms

Many people attribute the high co-morbidity of the disorders to overlapping diagnostic criteria, which makes it harder to identify the most accurate diagnosis. Stress is thought to be the common risk factor between depression and anxiety. While people who are depressed and people who are anxious respond differently to stress, common reactions to stress may explain some of the shared features between the disorders. 

People who struggle with both depression and anxiety are more likely to report 

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Changes in sleep patterns, either sleeping too much or not enough
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability

The Cycle of Depression and Anxiety in Troubled Teens

While there may be a significant amount in the overlap between the physical manifestation of these disorders, this brain imaging study suggests that there is a biological explanation for the overlap, rather than vague diagnostic criteria. This suggests that these experiences may reinforce each other. For example, people who experience low moods are often highly self-critical and worry about worst-case scenarios. People who struggle with excessive worrying are less able to stay present and find pleasure in activities, which can also contribute to a low mood.

The study found that patients exhibited abnormal low activity in areas responsible for emotional and cognitive control that help people stop ongoing mental activities and switch to new ones. They also discovered hyperactivity in areas that work together to process emotional thoughts and feelings. 

“These brain imaging findings provide a science-based explanation as to why patients with mood and anxiety disorders seem to be ‘locked in’ to negative mood states,” said Dr. Sophia Frangou, the study’s senior author and a psychiatry professor at UBC. “They also corroborate the patients’ experience of being unable to stop and switch away from negative thoughts and feelings.”

Addressing the Overlap

Wilderness therapy takes a holistic approach to helping teens struggling with both depression and anxiety by focusing on underlying issues rather than disorders or behaviors themselves. Through adventure activities and group therapy, teens build self-esteem, develop meaningful relationships, and practice healthier coping skills that help them deal with both depression and anxiety at the same time. Treatment methods that focus on either depression or anxiety, rather than a variety of issues or how they overlap, may teach teens how to cope with these feelings as they arise, but are less effective in preventing them from reoccurring. 

blueFire Wilderness Can Help

blueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based program for teens ages 11-17 who struggle with depression and anxiety. Wilderness therapy removes students from the distraction of peers, devices, and demands of life and allows them to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. Clients will be able to focus on themselves and become more aware of their troubling behaviors. BlueFire gives them the skills and tools they need to combat these behaviors and be on their way to a happy and healthy life. We can help your family today!

Contact us at 1-844-413-1999.

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