This is basic, comes from my understanding and is really here to help people who have never considered that Anxiety can be a mental health diagnosis. This is a UK based attempt to just pull some information together. It is not comprehensive and I am a sufferer, not a doctor. Therefore, there are two questions I am not going to try and answer:
- What are the diagnostic criteria for specific anxiety disorders?
- What treatments are there available for anxiety disorders?
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is perfectly natural part of life which often occurs when faced with a stressful situation. There is nothing wrong with being anxious before an exam. Anxiety disorders occur when the anxiety is out of proportion to the stressful situation or does not dissipate normally after the event. Anxiety disorders are likely to be diagnosed when the anxiety is interfering with everyday life.
What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?
- Excessive worrying
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shivering or shaking
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Panic Attacks
- An overarching sense of doom
- Avoiding Social Situation
- Irrational Fears
- gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- nausea and vomiting
- heightened alertness
- wanting to escape
- headaches and pain
- seeking reassurance
- pins and needles
- grinding teeth particularly at night
This is not a comprehensive list. I could add forgetfulness, which is actually an inability to lay down memory due to being anxious. Equally, it should be said that nobody suffers from all symptoms. I should also stress that I have not listed some symptoms associated with very specific anxiety disorders such as flashbacks.
What types of Anxiety disorder are there?
There are a huge variety of disorders that are classed as Anxiety disorders including:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Health Anxiety Disorder
- Perinatal Anxiety Disorder or Perinatal OCD
- Unspecified Anxiety Disorder (a catch-all terms for forms that do not fit elsewhere)
Again this is not a complete list, there is a longer and fuller list on the Anxiety UK Website.
How Common are Anxiety Disorders?
There are not figures overall for the UK although there is some data on individual specific disorders. In the US it is calculated as 30% of the population sometime in their lives suffers from an anxiety disorder (See America Psychiatric Association article “What are anxiety disorders?“). If this held in the UK then this would make them more prevalent that Depressive disorders, with approximately lifetime prevalence of 25%. Oddly enough statistics for children are available in the UK. Comparing depression with Anxiety in children gives the following table:
There seems to be a case that even without the pandemic the splitting of anxiety disorders has led to the overlooking of what an impact they are having on society.
What causes an Anxiety Disorder?
First off there is usually not a single cause that alone produces an Anxiety Disorder. According to NICE risk factors include:
- Female sex.
- Family history of psychiatric disorders.
- Childhood adversity such as:
- Maltreatment (for example, sexual or physical abuse).
- Parental problems with intimate partner violence, alcoholism, drug use, and/or mental illness.
- Exposure to an overprotective or overly harsh parenting style.
- Bullying or peer victimization among youths.
- Environmental stressors such as:
- Physical or emotional trauma.
- Domestic violence.
- Low socioeconomic status.
- Substance dependence or exposure to organic solvents — these can exacerbate the development of anxiety disorders [Morrow et al, 2000].
- Chronic and/or painful illness such as arthritis
One thing that is important to say is that there is an absence of personal experience of depression. Depression is definitely connected with anxiety but it is not clear what the relationship is. In my case, my anxiety disorder contributed hugely to my experience of depression. However, depression shares many risk factors with anxiety disorders and it also is sometimes listed as a risk factor itself.
Do people get better from an Anxiety Disorder?
The answer is that some do and some don’t. GAD seems to have between a 40% and 60% cure rate with CBT and PTSD seems to be somewhere similar. So really not something that is clear cut. What I think can be said is treatment helps people cope.
Where can I find out more?
This is UK based. There are many good US websites out there but I needed to restrict my listing. This also focuses on those that deal with the big umbrella term of Anxiety Disorder and do not go into the specific diagnoses. This is simply because I do not have the time to check all the websites.
- The Royal College of Psychiatrist has a webpage on Anxiety, Panic and Phobias with general information for everyone
- The central NHS information appears to focus generally on Anxiety rather than specifically on when it comes clinically diagnosable but there is another page that asks Do I have an Anxiety Disorder?
- Mind has a series of pages about Anxiety
- Anxiety UK aims to help people suffering from anxiety including raising awareness
- The Mental Health Foundation have a page on Anxiety
- Rethink has a fact sheet that can be downloaded from their website
- Mental Health UK has a section on their webpage on Anxiety Disorders.