Eating Disorders, Anxiety and Depression: More Common Than You Think
Posted December 13, 2011

“What brings you here?”

Such a simple question for a situation that had become so overwhelming over a couple of months. I’d had bouts of depression in the past, but never as lingering or as complex as the one that I had been experiencing that year. At the time I was working for a mental health non-profit and knew all the signs and symptoms of depression from memory: persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue (among others). In my mind, I was already diagnosed before my first therapy session was even scheduled. I spent the next 55 minutes spilling out every emotion, every mood that I had been experiencing. I was a textbook case of major depressive disorder.
Or so I thought.

I was also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder along with major depressive disorder. Comorbidity, or the presence of one or more disease in an individual, is extremely common with physical and mental illnesses. In a 12-month period, 5-9% of adults have comorbid depression and anxiety. Although I was also educated about the symptoms of anxiety, in my mind I didn’t “fit” the diagnosis because I only saw my symptoms of depression. Without even realizing it, I was also relaying my symptoms of anxiety to my therapist: restlessness, irritability and constant worrying. In order to get help for my depression, I also had to seek treatment for my anxiety.
Just as anxiety and depression can be comorbid, eating disorders and mood or anxiety disorders can often go hand-in-hand as well. While not widely discussed, the statistics are eye-opening:

  • 80% of people suffering from bulimia have also suffered from an anxiety disorder.
  • Both anxiety and depression are frequent comordid conditions among those suffering from anorexia.
  • In a 2008 study, 24% of bipolar patients met the criteria for eating disorders.
  • As many as 50% of patients diagnosed with binge eating disorder also have a history of depression.(Source: Psychology Today and WebMD)

These numbers emphasize that treating eating disorders can be complicated, but that it is important to treat the comorbidity as a whole-body approach. Armed with my own diagnosis, treatment and education about comorbid depression and anxiety, I have learned a great deal about comorbidity and eating disorders since joining the Someday Melissa team. So often in discussions of treatment for ED there is an emphasis on treating the underlying causes of ED, but not often are depression and anxiety highlighted as accompanying the ED. Let’s break the stigma and bring all of these issues out in the open.

~ Elizabeth

  • Lindsay Ensor

    Love this! Great article. I’m an advocate for breaking the stigma!!!