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Although they aren’t necessarily common, panic disorders affect between 2 and 3% of all American adults. In fact, 4.7% of American adults will experience a panic attack during their lifetime. These statistics are markedly higher for adults in their late teens to early twenties and doubled for women. For friends and family, it is important to know how to help someone having a panic attack.

Due to the concentration of cases in these demographics, the reality is that you probably know someone who has or currently does suffer from a panic disorder. In order to do what you can for them in the event of an attack, you must be able to recognize a panic attack and respond effectively.

What to Look For

The symptoms of a panic attack can vary from person to person. In some minor cases, they are almost indiscernible if you don’t know what to look for because the most common symptoms are mainly internal. Mental Health First Aid warns that panic attacks can manifest in several ways. The following list comprises the most common symptoms.

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Chest Pain
  • Abdominal Distress
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Fear of “going crazy” or dying
  • Chills and Hot Flashes
  • Feeling Choked
  • Feeling Faint
  • Feeling that you are detached from reality

Given the nature of these symptoms, a bystander is only likely to notice general physical and emotional distress. You may note that they are breathing heavily or look visibly confused. Unfortunately, these symptoms could be associated with a long list of other medical conditions.
Therefore, your first priority is to assess the situation to establish what the person is going through.

Assessing the Situation

Differentiating a panic attack from a medical situation that requires emergency help can be difficult, so your ability to assess the situation will rely on your ability to communicate clearly and concisely. A person in the throes of a panic attack will only be able to process small amounts of information at a time. All of their internal systems are in over-drive, so you will need to be patient.

Ask and Listen

Start by asking short, basic questions.

  • “Has this happened before?” Wait for a response. Try a different question if you get no answer.
  • “Do you want an ambulance?”
  • “Have you been feeling stressed?”

Your goal is to figure out if they know what is happening to them and if they require emergency help. Regardless of whether you end up calling 911, you will need to manage the situation until the attack has passed or the ambulance arrives.

Managing the Attack

Your last question should always be, “What might help you?” If they need to be moved away from a crowd or sat down, offer aid. Once they’re settled, stop asking questions. Instead, provide gentle assurance. Stay calm, talk slowly, and help them to focus on their breathing by encouraging them to count to ten with you.

On average, the longest attacks can last between 20 and 30 minutes, but most panic attacks will only last 5 to 10 minutes. During this time, stay with them to ensure continuity and support while they recover.

After the Attack

Once the attack has passed, it is important to show that you genuinely care for their well-being. See if they need you to call someone to pick them up, and encourage them to reach out to a medical professional regarding their attacks.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used to teach patients how to recognize their triggers and manage their symptoms. In ten weekly sessions, the “Panic No More” program at Cognitive Behavior Associates will help patients to restructure their reactions to common anxiety behaviors and address avoidance behaviors.

According to the Sleep Foundation, depression affects around 20 million Americans. Still, many experts believe that depression remains an under-reported condition. On the one hand, the long-surviving negative attitude surrounding mental illness is a contributing factor. But, the subtle nature of depression itself is responsible for patients going undiagnosed for months or even years. And, insomnia and depression often appear together.

Depression is characterized by its gradual onset and the mixed appearance of symptoms. The result is that it can be difficult to know that you have it before it becomes severe. This is true even if you are the one affected by depression. Recognizing your depression can be tougher than you might expect.

The difficulty of diagnosis becomes worse when loss of self-worth is a common symptom. As a result, many individuals with depression are too worried about wasting another person’s time. They see their problems as insignificant. This mindset prevents them from seeking the help they need. 

Factoring in Sleep

There are many symptoms regularly associated with depression. These can include physical symptoms like tiredness and changes in weight. But the more dangerous ones are mental. These include difficulty concentrating, hopelessness, loss of self-worth, and suicidal thoughts. 

Almost all depression patients experience one symptom: sleep disorders. You can have trouble sleeping, called insomnia. Or, you might find yourself sleeping for extended periods, called hypersomnia. In either case, sleep disorders are repeatedly associated with depression. Experts see it both as a contributing cause and a core symptom, according to Duke Health

What the Research Says

In fact, people who experience constant insomnia are ten times more likely to develop depression. An academic article in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience comments on sleep disturbance. It says that it is “prevalent…and often unresolved by treatment” in cases of existing depression. 

In plain English, sleep disorders contribute to the start of depression. Not only that, but they make it worse over time. Unfortunately, current treatment plans often fail to treat the sleep disorder. Doing this opens the patient up to continued periods of depression until you can address the sleep disorder fully.

The Added Trouble with Insomnia and Depression

All sleep disorders have the potential to interfere with quality of life. Hypersomnia can negatively impact your ability to hold a job or succeed in school, but insomnia has yet another effect. 

Being unable to sleep prevents your body from getting enough rest. So, first, your depression affects your interactions with other people. Then it limits your ability to focus. Finally, you’re also fighting the added effects of exhaustion. 

How Common is Insomnia?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that chronic sleeplessness affects 10-35 percent of the US. Obviously, people all over feel its effects. Research shows that sleep loss has noted effects on attention and working memory. This serves to compound already existing symptoms of depression. 

In addition, sleep loss from insomnia impairs physical parts of the brain. Specifically, it harms the brain’s waste disposal symptom. What this means is patients become vulnerable to physical brain diseases. Such illnesses can even further weaken their ability to manage the symptoms of depression as they age. And they are difficult to treat.

Start With Sleep

Even if you are currently managing your depression, don’t ignore the importance of treating your sleep disorder. Don’t think of it as a separate entity. It can be contributing to your condition. But, your condition also might cause it. 

You may need a small team to help you through this, and that is okay. 

Depression is a multi-faceted disease. So, it naturally requires a wide range of expertise to treat it on all fronts. At Cognitive Behavior Associates, your care providers work with your doctor and therapist to manage your condition from multiple angles. Such an approach gives you the best chance at extended recovery.

For anyone reading this who hasn’t found aid, there are people ready to help. Please call the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline at 1-800-662-4357. 

If you are contemplating self-harm, remember your life does matter. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.