Great Scott! Science Uncovers Link between Depression and People who Fear Fear

Josh Clark

I hadn't heard of this before: anxiety sensitivity. Now that I have, I can't think of too many worse conditions that don't involve substantial open wounds. Anxiety sensitivity is a clinical condition where an individual suffers anxiety about anxiety. More succinctly, it's the fear of fear. Well you've pretty much lost at the start, haven't you?

According to a recent Penn State study, the anxiety sensitive are, understandably, classified as above-average worriers. Their condition is predicated upon the notion that when their anxiety levels rise, they are more open to catastrophe befalling them. They also fear that their anxiety will be observable, bringing upon them shame and social awkwardness. That line of reasoning makes sense to me. When anxious, it's difficult to shake the nebulous sense of impending doom, that no one's watching your back, that you're walking much closer to the edge of disaster than usual. There's also an accompanying sense of isolation in that you don't really want to share your terrible feelings with others. But, of course, that's anxiety for you. Right? Did I need to spell that out?

No, I didn't dear reader, because you're a sensible individual who knows how to work a mouse and navigate the Internet, which makes you part of the 25.6 percent of the global population who can do that. This is not to say that as an Internet user you are of above average intelligence. My point is quite the contrary; the percentage of global Internet users is almost exactly the same percentage with available access to the Internet. What I mean to say is that you're a living, breathing human being with enough common sense to confidently navigate the Internet; hence, I didn't need to spell out anxiety for you.

Nor did the Penn State University researchers who conducted that recent study on the prevalence of depression among sufferers of anxiety sensitivity need to publish their results, which found, without any amount of surprise whatsoever, people who suffer anxiety sensitivity tend to also suffer depression. They uncovered a link between depression and the condition where an individual fears being afraid. I've just spelled it out for you again, haven't I?

It's a bit insulting, isn't it, having the line from A to B to C tediously illuminated for you as if by some unreasonably meticulous guide at an shopping mall (who, for some reason, gives guided tours of a shopping mall): "Here's the Old Navy. And if you'll look to your left, you'll see a Target. Next to the Target is a Barnes and Noble. Coming up next is one of the two regionally-dominant grocery stores. And across the parking lot, we'll see the other regionally-dominant grocery store."

But that's science. There's no sensible hopping from one logical conclusion to the other. We can't see an Old Navy and reasonably assume that there will also be a Target in the same live-work-play complex. Even if it's been documented by other researchers there is always a Target where there is an Old Navy, only a correlation has been demonstrated. It will not be until a causation is shown -- that the construction of an Old Navy causes the construction of a Target or vice versa -- that any scientist worth his or her salt will see an Old Navy and confidently predict that a Target is nearby.

While the rest of humanity leans on its old wives' tales and its jumps to conclusion (R.I.P. William Saffire), science diligently provides the data-driven link between depression and people who suffer from a fear of fear. So now I can tell you of that link without any fear of being proven wrong. And now you can tell others the same, with the same confidence. Science.

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More on HowStuffWorks.com: How Depression Works How the Scientific Method Works Will the world really end in 2012?