People often associate depression with sadness, but there can be another emotion that can be a sign of depression – Anger/Irritability. People experience depression in many different ways and it is important to know that there is no one way to be depressed. When thinking about depression, what people most often think about is a person who cannot get out of bed and is always sad. Depression can also be a feeling of not enjoying activities as much as you used to. Often times people experience increased irritability or even anger as a symptom of their depression.
Sigmund Freud – the father of modern psychology – used the concept of anger as his way of explaining depression. According to Freud, depression occurs when people experience anger toward others. Freud thought that people with depression, however, do not feel that they are able to express that anger. Instead, they turn the anger inwards – toward themselves. Modern day psychologists don’t typically think about depression in these terms but it has been clear from the very beginning that there is a strong link between depression and being angry.
In fact, irritability and anger have been shown to be linked to more severe depression. A study by NIMH measured depressed patients over 30 years. The study found that those depressed patients who had symptoms of anger were also expected to have longer, more intense, and more frequent depressive episodes. This study further suggests that in depressed people, there was a higher likelihood of substance abuse, antisocial personality disorder, and anxiety.
Teens and Anger
The most common population that experiences anger with depression are teenagers. Teenage years can be tough for everybody. Pressure can come from every angle – parents, schoolwork, friends, siblings, etc. It is common for adolescents to feel stuck, frustrated, and – at times – angry. When this anger seems to be constant, it can be a sign of depression.
If you are a teenager who is noticing that you are frequently angry or irritable, try to find someone you can trust and talk to them about it. Of course, if you can find a professional therapist, he or she can help you work through your issues of depression and anger. Also, talking to a trusted friend can help you blow off some steam in a safe place and maybe even get another perspective on your situation. If you do not feel comfortable speaking about it, try keeping a journal. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, tell your parent or guardian. You can also call a help hotline.
If you are a parent/guardian of a teen, make sure your child knows that you are always available to talk – even when he or she is angry. This can mean having an open-ended, non-judgmental discussion with your child about what makes him or her angry or frustrated. It may also be helpful for you to talk to your child about what you personally do to cope with your overwhelming emotions. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but if you can approach your child in a non-judgmental way, you may find that you can help.
Seeking Treatment for Depression and Anger
CBT – In a review of the past 20 years of research, Richard Beck and Ephrem Fernandez looked at studies that evaluated the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with anger. Their review found that the vast majority of the studies showed that 76% of individuals who received CBT saw fewer anger symptoms than those who did not.
CBT is a short-term therapy style that focuses on the impact that your thoughts have on your behaviors and emotions. Typically, a CBT therapist will teach you skills that will help you cope with depression, anxiety, or in this case: anger.
Medication – If you find that therapy is not helpful for you, you may want to consider seeking a consultation for medication. If you are interested in seeking medication, you should contact a psychiatrist. Interestingly, the type of medication that is frequently prescribed for the treatment of anger is antidepressants. This is due to the overall calming nature of the medications. If you are interested in learning specifics about medication, here are some videos about types of antidepressants: SNRI and SSRI.
Therapy vs. Medication – You should be aware that the most effective treatment of depression and anger is frequently a combination of CBT and medication. When you combine both, you get the calming effects of the medication and you get to learn skills and coping mechanisms for dealing with anger in the future. You can never eliminate anger from your life, however you can find ways to manage and cope with it. This video further explains how to evaluate whether to seek therapy or medication.
Mindfulness/Alternative Treatments – Mindfulness is more than just a buzzword. Mindfulness refers to the ability to be present in the moment without judgment of yourself or others. Basically just being there in the moment. Frequently, mindfulness involves meditation and breathing exercises that help you focus on the present and helps you avoid judgment. There are many apps that provided guided meditations, along with other helpful mindfulness tips. Here are some apps that focus on mindful meditation.
Group Therapy – Group therapy can be very helpful when dealing with issues of anger and depression. It can often be very therapeutic to know that others are going through similar things as you. By sharing and listening to others, members of a group therapy can gain valuable perspectives on their own issues and situations. Group therapy is also a more cost-effective form of therapy, as compared to individual therapy.
Final Thoughts On Depression and Anger
Depression and anger can frequently go hand-in-hand. People who suffer from depression can experience extreme sadness as well as frustration and anger. Teens especially tend to experience anger while going through depression. There are a number of treatments that can help with anger and depression. Talk therapy (such as CBT and mindfulness) can be a good start when looking for treatment. If you find that therapy is not helpful, you may want to consider seeking a consultation with a psychiatrist about medication. Talking to other people (either friends or in a group therapy setting) can help you gain perspectives on your own situation and issues.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This blog should not be used for therapy purposes and does not constitute or establish a doctor/patient relationship. This website offers information and links to helpful resources, however, is not intended to be considered treatment.
Beck R, Fernandez E. Cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of anger: A meta-analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research 1998;22:63–74.
Judd LL, Schettler PJ, Coryell W, Akiskal HS, Fiedorowicz JG. Overt Irritability/Anger in Unipolar Major Depressive Episodes: Past and Current Characteristics and Implications for Long-term Course. JAMA Psychiatry.2013;70(11):1171–1180. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1957
Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.
Licensed clinical psychologist in New York and California.
Provides individual, group and couples psychotherapy for children (and their parents), adolescents, and adults.
Specializes in working with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety and ADHD.