Feeling a bit depressed or in a state of high anxiety? Do you have the feeling you are not alone when it comes to being racked by such feelings? You may be on to something.
According to a newly released report from Blue Cross Blue Shield of America, major depression is on the rise among Americans. Meanwhile, a separate report from the American Psychiatric Association reveals most Americans experienced increased anxiety levels during the past year.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield study looked at medical claims from members from 2013 to 2016. Researchers found a 33 percent jump in diagnosis of major depression over that time. The study estimates that more than 9 million commercially insured people across the United States currently suffer from major depression. Millennials and teenagers experienced the fastest climb in diagnosis and treatment. The demographic groups were up 47 percent and 63 percent, respectively. If this trend is not reversed, clinical depression could have a substantial impact on health care for decades to come.
According to the findings, women are diagnosed with major depression at double the rate of men. Eighty-five percent of people were diagnosed with both major depression and one or more additional health conditions. The highest rates of treatment for major depression were in New England, the Pacific Northwest and various parts of the South and Midwest. Every state except Hawaii experienced rising diagnosis rates of depression over the course of the study period.
According to another new survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, on a scale from 0 to 100, this year’s national anxiety score is 51, a five-point increase over last year. For the report, the American Psychiatric Association surveyed more than 1,000 adults from across the United States and compared the results to a similar poll conducted in 2017. According to the findings, nearly 4 out of 10 Americans feel more anxious than this time last year.
Participants rated their anxiety within five different areas, including health, safety, finances, relationships and politics. Millennials were shown to be more anxious than gen-Xers or baby boomers – though baby boomers experienced the greatest increase in anxiety levels. The biggest increase in anxiety levels was around paying bills. This was especially true for millennials.
As pointed out by Jacek Debiec, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan in an analysis of the survey posted on the academic news site, The Conversation, anxiety is a lower-grade version of a fear response. Short-term and mild-to-moderate anxiety states are not unusual. They serve to increase our alertness and prepare us for new challenges. “But,” he writes, “If it lasts, anxiety, like fear, can bring long-lasting physiological changes such as prolonged muscle tension, chronic high blood pressure and sleep disorders.”
“Children are especially sensitive to their caretakers’ emotional states, which means that if more adults are more anxious, the same is true for kids,” he writes.
If nothing else, this survey points out how vulnerable we are today to the debilitating effects of sustained anxiety and stress. It highlights the need for people to take steps to reduce negative impacts that can lead to more serious health consequences.
As professor Debiec warns, “Although regular exercise, relaxation, healthy eating and time with friends and family are all known to reduce anxiety, these fixes may not be sufficient.”
Among the things getting in the way of dealing with the onrush of problems such as long-term anxiety is a condition you likely have never heard of before. It is a subclinical condition known as “alexithymia.” Its defining characteristic is an inability to recognize, identify and describe your emotions; the inability to put words to how you are feeling.”
Alexithymia has recently been linked with a host of health problems, including hypertension, migraines, pain control, sleep problems, eating disorders and substance abuse, as well as depression and other mental health conditions. No numbers are given as to how many Americans suffer from this condition, but it is believed to be a difficulty that millions of people struggle with every day. As pointed out in a recent U.S. News report, the main characteristics of this condition are a lack of emotional awareness, an inability to identify or describe emotions and trouble distinguishing between emotions and bodily sensations.
According to a study published in the April issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, since this person does not know how to recognize or regulate those emotions, they are likely to turn to alcohol or food to manage the distress. Alexithymia also can develop as a coping mechanism for psychological trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Traumatic brain injury can cause alexithymia, as well as other neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
According to the U.S. News report, treating the condition can be challenging. People usually get treated for the depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse – mental health conditions that accompanies alexithymia, rather than for alexithymia itself.
“Because they may lack the emotional vocabulary needed to communicate or describe these emotions, people with alexithymia are not likely to seek emotional support from a counselor or even a family member or friend,” says Dawn Neumann, an associate professor and research director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Indiana University School of Medicine and Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana.
Clinicians point out that the very act of labeling emotions is believed to help minimize an unpleasant feeling. “Emotions are signposts for things we care about, so ask, ‘What is this emotion trying to tell me?'” says Susan David, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School.
“Being able to label one’s emotions in a robust, granular way is associated with high levels of well-being, low levels of depression and anxiety, a better capacity to move forward with one’s goals and effectively navigate a complex world,” adds Neumann.
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