Where Do The Definitions Come From?
Clearly, depression and anxiety are not only different from each other, but also extremely variable between people. It can often feel a bit strange to be grouped into the mental illness category when you sit down with an underwriter. Indeed, some questions may come off as intrusive or irrelevant, or the categories may seem arbitrary.
These complaints are common and justified. Still, insurers need a standardized way of understanding these illnesses so that they can offer you the best plan. In general, they draw from definitions of mental conditions from reputable sources like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so that you know that you’re not just being charged for what some insurer deems to be depression.
If you’re concerned about how a particular insurer would classify your condition, the best thing to do is ask for more information. Not only would you be holding the insurer accountable but you would also be acting as an advocate for yourself.
In general, insurers define depression and anxiety, as follows:
- Depression – According to the CDC and a few common diagnostic tools, depression is set of symptoms that are generally characterized by low mood. In order to be considered for clinical depression, you have to have met five or more criteria for at least a two week period, including: sadness, disinterest in things that used to be pleasurable, changes in weight, changes in sleep, thoughts of death or suicide, hopelessness, and others. As you can see, depression is not simply sadness, but rather a period of time characterized by many different difficult experiences that are both mental and physical.
And, of course, not all depression is the same. Someone dealing with Situational Depression because of the recent loss of a loved one is going to have a much different treatment plan and day-to-day life than someone who has been suffering from Major Depressive Disorder for three years. And, while some forms of depression are characterized by temporary episodes of intense feelings, others manifest in long stretches of low mood and fatigue.
- Anxiety – Just as depression can encompass many different experiences, the definition of anxiety as explained by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America is broad. In general, it is understood as a constant or frequent feeling of stress that is disproportionate to real threats. In other words, you may be sitting in a comfortable chair in the safety of your home but your brain is triggering a response as if you were in very real danger. And, similar to depression, this process has effects on both the mind and body.
There are also many types of anxiety, with varying degrees of severity. The most common, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, impacts some 6.8 million Americans and is characterized by feelings of stress and worry that may or may not interfere with daily activities. Others may experience panic attacks or unwanted obsessive thoughts. After traumatic events, some people develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which may manifest in any of the above symptoms as well as nightmares, flashbacks, and mood swings.
Obviously, these definitions don’t encompass everything that mental health challenges like depression and anxiety mean for an individual. A formal assessment by a mental health professional is crucial for creating a more in-depth understanding of what depression or anxiety look like in a person’s life.