Article Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Eating Disorder Hope
For the person struggling with an eating disorder, there are often other issues coinciding with the eating disorder that may be present as well. Some of the more common co-occurring issues that develop with eating disorders include anxiety disorders and depression.
Anxiety disorders may include social anxiety, any type of phobia, panic disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder. Signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder can vary but may include any of the following:
- Difficulty sleeping or disruption in sleep patterns
- Feeling uneasy or fearful
- Physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or clammy/cold hands and/or feet
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Restlessness or inability to be still and calm
How Depression Presents
Depression on the other hand, is also a mental health disorder in which a person experiences episodes of apathy or sadness that interfere with an ability to live a normal life. Depressive disorders can include:
- Major depression
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Psychotic depression
- Postpartum depression
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Bipolar disorder
Signs and symptoms of depression disorders may also vary from individual but can include the following:
- Loss of interest in activities that one previously enjoyed
- Feeling pessimistic, hopeless, sad or anxious
- Excessive sleeping, insomnia, or other disruptions with sleep patterns
- Weight loss, loss of appetite, or overeating
- Suicide ideations or suicide attempts
- Fatigue and/or decreased energy
- Feeling worthless, shameful and/or guilty
When Eating Disorders and Depression/Anxiety Occur Together
Depression and anxiety disorders can be difficult to deal with in themselves, let alone in combination with an eating disorder. It is important however, to understand that because of the common genetic and biological similarities among anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, these mental health illnesses can often be co-occurring.
Becoming aware of what you are dealing with can open up treatment possibilities for you that can help you effectively address these disorders. It is imperative to address co-occurring issues together in order to find healing and resolve.
Treatments for Co-occurring Mental Health Issues
Many of the treatments for anxiety, depression, and eating disorders do overlap and can include a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, or medication management. The right medication can be a therapeutic part of treatment and managing symptoms associated with anxiety and/or depression.
When these symptoms are better managed, this can help a person focus on recovering from the eating disorder more effectively.
Medications commonly prescribed for anxiety are anti-anxiety prescription drugs, also known as tranquilizers. These drugs function in the body by slowing down the central nervous system, which can help relieve anxiety. The most common class of anti-anxiety drugs is Benzodiazepines, which can include the following:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
Other types of medications for anxiety include beta blockers, buspirone, and antidepressants.
Medications for Depression
Medications that may be prescribed for depressive disorders commonly include antidepressants, which primarily function by normalizing chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. The classes of antidepressants used are as follows:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors: These medications include paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and Fluoxetine (Prozac). These prescription drugs function by blocking the reabsorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which in turn boosts mood.
- Tricyclics: These antidepressants include imipramine and nortriptyline and function by restoring levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can help alleviate depression.
- MAOIs: This older class of antidepressant medication works by altering the levels of one of more naturally occurring neurotransmitters in the brain.
Following Protocols for Medicine and Treatment
While medications can be a helpful and effective part of treatment, it is crucial to follow the protocol prescribed by a physician who is overseeing and managing your treatment. As with all medications, side effects may be present, so it is important to work with your doctor to find out which prescription works best for you and your body.
This may require a trial and error phase in which your doctor will adjust the dosing of your medication to fit your needs. Your doctor may also find it necessary to switch your prescription altogether or add another type of medication to your current dosage.
While the initial phase of introducing a medication for anxiety or depression can be uncomfortable or uneasy, you can work with your doctor to find the protocol that is best suited for you and your needs.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on March 21, 2015.
Reviewed, Updated & Approved on February 20, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com