Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting both children and adults.
Anxiety disorders are categorized as:
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable with psychosocial therapies, medication, or both.
Misdiagnosis and undertreatment of anxiety disorders costs the nation billions of dollars annually.
Panic Disorder is diagnosed when an individual suffers at least two unexpected Panic Attacks, followed by at least 1 month of concern over having another attack. Sufferers are also prone to situationally predisposed attacks. The frequency and severity of the attacks varies from person to person, an individual might suffer from repeated attacks for weeks, while another will have short bursts of very severe attacks. The sufferer often worries about the physical and emotional consequences of the Panic Attacks. Many become convinced that the attacks indicate an undiagnosed illness and will submit to frequent medical tests. Even after tests come back negative, a person with Panic Disorder will remain worried that they have a physical illness. Some individuals will change their behavioral patterns, avoiding the scene of a previous attack for example, in the hopes of preventing having another attack.
Agoraphobia often, but not always, coincides with Panic Disorder. Agoraphobia is characterized by a fear of having a panic attack in a place from which escape is difficult. Many sufferers refuse to leave their homes, often for years at a time. Others develop a fixed route, or territory, from which they cannot deviate, for example the route between home and work. It becomes impossible for these people to travel beyond what they consider to be their safety zones without suffering severe anxiety.
The age of onset of Panic Disorder varies from late adolescence to mid-thirties. Relatively few suffer from the disorder in childhood.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions which the sufferer usually recognizes as being excessive or unreasonable. Obsessions are recurring thoughts or impulses that are intrusive or inappropriate and cause the sufferer anxiety. Some common obsessions are:
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or rituals performed by the OCD sufferer, performance of these rituals neutralize the anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts, relief is only temporary. Compulsions are incorporated into the person's daily routine and are not always directly related to the obsessive thought, for example, a person who has aggressive thoughts may count floor tiles in an effort to control the thought. Some of the most common compulsions are:
In order for OCD to be diagnosed, the obsessions and/or compulsions must take up a considerable amount of the sufferers time, at least one hour every day, and interfere with normal routines (a person, for example, who cannot make left turns when driving), occupational functioning, social activities, or relationships. OCD can interfere with one's ability to concentrate, and it is not uncommon for a sufferer to avoid certain situations, for example, someone who is obsessed with cleanliness may be unable to use public restrooms.
Onset of OCD is usually gradual and most often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Unlike adults, children with OCD do not realize that their obsessions and compulsions, which are most often of the washing, checking, and ordering variety, are excessive.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Phobia is characterized by an intense fear of situations, usually social or performance situations, where embarrassment may occur. Individuals with the disorder are acutely aware of the physical signs of their anxiety and fear that others will notice, judge them, and think poorly of them. This fear often results in extreme anxiety in anticipation of an activity, a Panic Attack when faced with an activity, or in the avoidance of an activity altogether. Adults usually recognize that their fears are unfounded or excessive, but suffer them nonetheless.
Blushing when in social situations is particularly common and often causes the sufferer further embarrassment.
People with Social Phobia tend to be sensitive to criticism and rejection, have difficulty asserting themselves, and suffer from low self-esteem. The most common fears associated with the disorder are a fear of speaking in public or to strangers, a fear of meeting new people, and performance fears (activities that may potentially be embarrassing), such as writing, eating or drinking in public. Sufferers usually fear more than one type of social setting.
Onset of the disorder is usually in mid to late adolescence, but children have also been diagnosed with Social Phobia. Children with the disorder are prone to excessive shyness, clinging behavior, tantrums and even mutism. There is usually a marked decline in school performance and the child will often try to avoid going to school or taking part in age appropriate social activities. Their fears are centered on peer settings rather than social activities involving adults, with whom they may feel more comfortable. For a child to be diagnosed with Social Phobia, symptoms must persist for at least six months.
Specific Phobia is characterized by the excessive fear of an object or a situation, exposure to which causes an anxious response, such as a Panic Attack. Adults with phobias recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, but they are unable to control it. The feared object or situation is usually avoided or anticipated with dread.
Specific Phobia is diagnosed when an individual's fear interferes with their daily routine, employment (e.g., missing out on a promotion because of a fear of flying), social life (e.g., inability to go to crowded places), or if having the phobia is significantly distressful. The level of fear felt by the sufferer varies and can depend on the proximity of the feared object or chances of escape from the feared situation. If a fear is reasonable it cannot be classed as a phobia.
Specific Phobia may have its onset in childhood, and is often brought on by a traumatic event; being bitten by a dog, for example, may bring about a fear of dogs. Phobias that begin in childhood may disappear as the individual grows older. Fear of certain types of animals is the most common Specific Phobia. The disorder can be comorbid with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia.