As reported in Thursdays blog, more and more evidence is being found that long term untreated anxiety is likely to turn into depression. The study quoted on thursday found that this was likely to happen to about 50% of the population of anxiety sufferers. Another study also published recently suggests that untreated long term anxiety is likely to turn into depression in up to 77% of cases.
It has also been found that those that develop depression following long term anxiety, tend to get more severe forms of depression compared to those who develop depression without first suffering bouts of anxiety.
These are sobering findings and really highlight the importance of dealing with anxiety in its early forms and of learning the tools and techniques of proper emotion regulation.
However a question arises as to what is causing the anxiety to turn into depression. Surprisingly only three studies have looked look at the potential causes of this phenomenon. The first research study from 1999 looked at whether specific negative life events or reassurance seeking behaviours could be what transforms anxiety into depression, however the researchers could not find the expected connections. The second study from 2009 looked at the hypothesis that a lack of problem solving skills or individuals with anxiety who perceive that they have little or no control over the things that happen to and around them might cause, in part at least, the anxiety to turn to depression. Like the 1999 study, this study was unable to find such a causal effect.
However a study published a few weeks ago does finally shed light on this transformation. The study by researchers at The Pennsylvania State University in the United States used a large scale sample between 1994 and 2008 in four waves of observation with between 6504 and 4834 people to try to find what might be one of the causes for depression with people suffering from anxiety.
A prominent feature of anxiety is avoidance or flight. If an individual is anxious about something, say meetings, or public speaking or flying for example, they will tend to avoid engaging in that activity as a method trying to regulate the anxiety. As members of the free course will know this is one of three primary responses to what is known as the 'fear of the fear' phenomenon.
The researchers tested the hypothesis that avoiding the anxiety inducing subject, e.g. flying, public speaking etc. was a factor in the onset of depression. If this hypothesis were to prove to be correct one would expect that the greater the level of avoidance the greater the chance the individual has of becoming depressed. Indeed this is exactly what the researchers found.
The more someone avoids the anxiety promoting stimulus the greater their chances of becoming depressed.
There is now a hunt ongoing to find why this might be the case.
N.C. Jacobson & M.G. Newman (2014) Avoidance mediates the relationship between anxiety and depression over a decade later. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 28 (2014) 437-445.