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Is Your Partner Anxious or Depressed?

On Monday, I talked about how depression in men can look more like “grumpiness,” masking what’s really going on inside. Today, we’ll discuss how anxiety and depression can often look similar, but there are some pretty clear distinctions that can help you figure out which problem your partner is having, and seek appropriate treatment for it.

Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand. It is very common for someone to be diagnosed with both, which is called comorbidity. But it’s still important to know which disorder is affecting your partner’s life so that the treatment–whether it’s medication or therapy or both–can be targeted to best address the symptoms.

For example, your partner may be both anxious and depressed, but if her anxiety symptoms are what is keeping her from being able to go to work and be productive, then that is what the treatment team would want to focus on first.

So, what’s the difference between anxiety and depression?

Before I answer that question, please know that the symptoms described below are for when the disorders are active and not well managed. Recovery IS possible from both of these disorders, and your partner is not “doomed” to feel like this forever. But having a realistic perspective on what it’s like for most people who have either depression or anxiety can help you understand why your partner behaves as they do.

Aaron Beck, MD, who is considered the “father of cognitive therapy,” endorses these descriptions as how to tell the difference between anxiety and depression in his book Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective.

  1. People with depression have the perspective that everything is negative, and that there is little hope for improvement. People with anxiety think negatively about specific situations, and can see at least some positives some of the time.
  2. People with depression see the future as hopeless, and largely out of their control. People with anxiety generally see some hope for the future, but feel anxiety about how to accomplish what they need to do to achieve that improvement.
  3. People with depression see their shortcomings as evidence that they are “bad,” or “defective,” or “broken.” People with anxiety also have negative views of their mistakes, but feel that they can be overcome, even if they are not sure how.
  4. People with depression avoid routine tasks because they take too much energy, are too overwhelming, or because they believe doing them is not going to make a difference anyway. People with anxiety avoid specific tasks that make them anxious because of their fear of failure or being unable to cope or being ridiculed if they do it wrong.
  5. People with depression expect failure, and often give up without even trying. For example, if a depressed person wakes up in the morning and feels tired, she may say, “I won’t be able to do anything today….it’s not even worth trying….I might as well stay in bed all day.” People with anxiety take the view that yes, the day may be challenging, but it hasn’t happened yet. Bad things could happen, such as messing up a presentation at work, and that does provoke anxiety, but it might not necessarily stop the anxious person from trying.
  6. The automatic thoughts of a depressed person focus on overall sadness and loss, such as, “I’ll never be as capable as I once was,” or “It’ll never get better.” The automatic thoughts of an anxious person are more specific to performance, such as “I won’t know what to say when I talk to him,” or “I won’t have enough time to do a good job.”


Is Your Partner Anxious or Depressed?

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2011). Is Your Partner Anxious or Depressed?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Sep 2011
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