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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses affecting South Africans today. These can lead to substance abuse/alcoholism, lost jobs, family breakdown and even suicide. To help build awareness and educate the public about anxiety disorders, their symptoms and the effective treatments available, the Depression and Anxiety Support Group will host an Anxiety Disorders Awareness Day on 10th October 1998 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hosted by twenty national sites, National Anxiety Disorders Awareness Day gives thousands of people across the country the opportunity to be assessed, free of charge, as to whether they suffer from one of the anxiety disorders. This programme includes viewing a video, completing a screening questionnaire, meeting mental health professionals to review the questionnaire and receiving free brochures about the various anxiety disorders.

More individuals suffer from anxiety disorders than any other group of mental disorders. However, with effective treatment, these illnesses do not have to affect a person’s quality of life.

Anxiety disorders include:

Panic Disorder: A sudden, uncontrollable attack of terror that can manifest itself with heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, an out of control or terribly frightening feeling or similar feelings of anxiety.

Social Phobia: A persistent fear of one or more situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others and fears that he or she may do something or act in a way that will be humiliating.

Phobia: A constant, intense and irrational fear associated with a particular object of situation that leads to avoidance of that subject or situation.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Caused when someone experiences or witnesses a severely distressing or traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD become so preoccupied with this experience that they are unable to lead a normal life. Recurring nightmares and/or flashbacks, avoidance of people and items associated with the trauma, unprovoked anger, jumpiness, inability to concentrate and insomnia are common PTSD symptoms.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Repeated, intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that cause anxiety, often accompanied by ritualistic behaviour (compulsions) that relieve this anxiety. Common obsession include fear of dirt, germs or contamination, fear of harming someone. Common compulsions are excessive cleaning, counting, double-checking and hoarding. OCD sufferers recognise their behaviour is irrational but are unable to control it.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): GAD involves excessive anxiety and worry that lasts for at least six months accompanied by other physical and behavioural symptoms including irritability, muscle tension, aches, soreness, restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances.

“Many people do not realise that there are several kinds of anxiety disorders,” says Mary Guardino, initiator of the first National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day in the United States of America. “We hope that events such as National Anxiety Disorders Screening day will help increase the number of people who seek help and get treatment for their illness."

Most mental health experts treat anxiety disorders with a combination of medication and behavioural therapy. Treatment should be indivualised for each patient, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the level of function.