How are anxiety and depression different? How are the two mental conditions the same? Understand how to tell them apart, and why many people associate the two together.

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 40 million American adults have at least one type of anxiety disorder. Around 16 million American adults have major depressive disorder. While those two types of disorders are prevalent and frequently co-occur, they are different conditions.

Determining if someone has anxiety versus depression can be difficult because the two share many symptoms. Distinguishing between depression versus anxiety can be challenging and many assign incorrect symptoms to each. There are distinguishable characteristics for each, and understanding the differences is essential to understanding the disorders.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Although anxiety and depression often co-occur, they are separate conditions with different symptoms.  
  • Suicidal thoughts are more linked to depression, while excessive worrying is more linked to anxiety.  
  • Different medications are prescribed for both anxiety and depression.  
  • About 50 percent of people with depression also have an anxiety disorder.  
  • People with both conditions should seek help from a mental health professional to talk about their symptoms and seek treatment.  

Differences Between Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are in different classes of mental health disorders. Depression is a mood disorder while anxiety is its own class of conditions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition distinguishes anxiety and depression by listing each as a separate classification of mental conditions. There are many types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxietysocial anxiety and specific phobia. There are also different types of depression-related conditions, including major depressive disorder, seasonal depression and bipolar disorder.

Another difference between anxiety and depression is their definitions. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by despondency and overwhelming sadness. Anxiety is an overwhelming worry or stress related to the perceived inevitability that an adverse event or outcome will occur. Additional differences between depression and anxiety include the symptoms of the disorders and the drugs used for their treatment.

Differences in Symptoms

Comparing the signs of anxiety versus depression symptoms is one way to differentiate the disorders. The symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Rumination or obsessive thought patterns
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Isolation
  • Changes in appetite

Depression involves many of the same symptoms as anxiety, but some, such as excessive worrying or fear, are not directly associated with depression. Likewise, experiencing suicidal thoughts is linked more often to depression than to anxiety.

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Differences in Medication

Many of the medications for anxiety and depression are called reuptake inhibitors. There are different types of reuptake inhibitors, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Taking an SSRI versus SNRI for anxiety and depression depends on a doctor’s recommendation. Not all SSRIs or SNRIs are sufficient for every type of anxiety disorder or depression. SSRIs limit serotonin transport, which can increase serotonin levels in the body and help with managing symptoms of major depressive disorder or various kinds of anxiety. SNRIs block the serotonin transport and norepinephrine transport, which also creates a chemical balance.

There are differences between the medications for anxiety and depression. Antidepressant medicine, such as nortriptyline, is primarily for depression. Anxi-anxiety medications include benzodiazepines, which is mostly used for treating anxiety.

Why Anxiety and Depression Are Linked

Are anxiety and depression the same? No, but they share many similarities and connections.

Anxiety and depression often occur together. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 50 percent of people with depression also have an anxiety disorder. Co-occurrence is prevalent because anxiety frequently causes depressed states and major depressive disorder can result in anxiousness.

Similarities in Symptoms

There are specific symptoms more associated with anxiety than depression and vice versa. However, many symptoms are prevalent for both illnesses, including:

  • Isolation
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Nausea
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or other activities

Similarities in Medications

SSRIs and SNRIs both can help with anxiety and depression. According to the website VeryWellMind, SSRIs are primarily used to treat anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder. SSRIs approved in the United States include CelexaProzac and Zoloft.

VeryWellMind also states that SNRIs are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. SNRIs approved in the U.S. include Cymbalta, Fetzima and Pristiq.

When to Talk to Someone About Your Symptoms

Once anxiety or depression impacts your life, you should seek help from a mental health professional. The psychological conditions can lead to social isolation, worsening performance at school or work, and substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

If you rely on drugs or alcohol as a response to anxiousness or depression, consider rehabilitation. The Recovery Village has centers throughout the country that provide co-occurring disorder treatment when a mental illness pairs with addiction. The team of experts can help you attain a substance-free lifestyle and treat your mental condition.

Related: Starting Treatment for Addiction & Mental Health through Teletherapy

If you’re looking for healthy ways to manage anxiety and depression, the Nobu app can help. It is free and for anyone that is looking to reduce anxiety, work through depression, build self-esteem, get aftercare following treatment, attend teletherapy sessions and so much more. Download the Nobu app today!

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Accessed January 10, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.