Are Depression And Anxiety Only Emotional Disorders

There is a theory that suggests that depression and anxiety disorders are fundamentally emotional, meaning that they stem purely from disorders of the emotions, which are caused by the "spontaneous firing" of certain primitive emotions, such as fear and sadness (Barlow). Lauren Alloy writes in an article from 1991 that she agrees with Ortony and Turner that fear and sadness are not primitive at all, neither biologically or psychologically, but instead occur completely normally in reaction to negative "appraisals" such as facial expressions. These normal occurrence are therefore cognitive reactions, not random explosions of emotions. Alloy makes the point that although a person with an anxiety or depression disorder might not understand why he or she suddenly experience feelings of fear or sadness at "random" times, it is possible for this person to examine his or her feelings and (with the help of a therapist) be able to eventually understand why he or she feels a certain way at a certain time. For this reason, anxiety and depression seem to result more heavily from cognitive defects than from emotional ones.

Barlow describes the main difference between "normal" people and those with anxiety or depression is that the latter feel that the attacks that they have of sadness or fear are uncontrollable, and so constantly are aprehensive about when the next attack will occur. Alloy goes on to compare and contrast Barlow's model to Alloy et al.'s. Barlow defines depression as an abnormally developed anxiety disorder; where the anxious person at least tries to cope with his or her attacks of fear, the depressed person makes no attempt to do so, giving up and into sadness. Alloy et al.'s model agrees with Barlow that people with both anxiety and depression disorders expect their life to be basically uncontrollable, but people with anxiety disorder end at helplessness, whereas people with depression travel on to hopelessness. In addition, Alloy's model agrees that people with both disorders have the cognitive perception of events being constantly out of their control, but this model asserts that depressed people also believe that negative outcomes are caused by "internal, stable, and global" factors; those with anxiety disorders do not. Alloy's model also says that the type of stress that one experiences is important, not only the severity of the stress (as Barlow says).

Although Alloy's article may seem to berate Barlow's research as incomplete or even incorrect, Alloy ends by saying that Barlow's research does admit that there are certain cognitive attributes in anxiety and depression disorders, and that his research is necessary in understanding both depression and anxiety. This article makes the very interesting and important point that depression and anxiety stem from cognitive disorders in addition to emotional ones. It seems imperative that educators understand this in order to be able to help students with such disorders to achieve their highest levels of success.

Alloy, Lauren B. Depression and Anxiety: Disorders of Emotion or Cognition? Psychological Inquiry, VO : 2. 1991. PP : 72-74
Copyright 1991 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.