Most people experience feeling of anxiety before an important event such as a big exam, business presentation or first date. Anxiety disorders, however, are illnesses that fill people’s lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear that are chronic, unremitting, and can grow progressively worse. Tormented by panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, or countless frightening physical symptoms, some people with anxiety disorders even become housebound. Fortunately, through research, there are effective treatments that can help. The Depression and Anxiety Support Group is conducting a national education campaign to increase awareness of these disorders and their treatments.
How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in South Africa. 1 in 5 South Africans are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year.
What Are the Different Kinds of Anxiety Disorders?
- Panic Disorder – Repeated episodes of intense fear strike often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviours that seem impossible to stop or control.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as rape, or other criminal assault, war child abuse, natural disasters or crashes. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression and feeling angry, irritable or distracted and being easily startled are common.
- Phobias – Two major types of phobias are social phobia and specific phobia. People with social phobia have an overwhelming disability fear of scrutiny, embarrassment, or humiliation in social situations, which leads to avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities. People with specific phobia experience extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder – Constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months. Almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it; accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache or nausea.
What Are Effective Treatments for Anxiety Disorders?
Treatments have been largely developed through research. They help many people with anxiety disorders and often combine medication and specific types of psychotherapy.
More medication are available than ever before to effectively treat anxiety disorders. These include groups of drugs called antidepressants and benzodiazepines. If one medication is not effective, other can be tried. New medications are currently under development to treat anxiety symptoms.
Two clinically proven effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders are behavioural therapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy. Behavioural therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to stop unwanted behaviours. In addition to the behavioural therapy techniques, cognitive-behavioural therapy teaches patients to understand and change their thinking patterns so that they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety. The Depression and Anxiety Support Group will be able to refer you to specialists in your area. They can be contacted on (011) 783 1474/6 or 884-1797 from Monday to Saturday between 8 am and 7pm. They also distribute brochures and newsletters on all the different anxiety disorders.
Do Anxiety Disorders Co-Exist with Other Physical or Mental Disorders?
It is so common for an anxiety disorder to accompany depression, eating disorders, substance abuse or another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can also co-exist with physical disorders. In such instances, the accompanying disorders will also need to be treated. Before beginning any treatment, however, it is important to have a thorough medical examination to rule out other possible causes of symptoms.