Everyone feels anxious at times. Workplace pressures, public speaking, demanding schedules or exam writing can lead to worry, even fear. These feelings, however, differ from those associated with an anxiety disorder. People suffering from an anxiety disorder have intense, prolonged feelings of fright and distress for no obvious reason, and these feelings can interfere with all their relationships.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems, affecting approximately 1 in 10 people. More women than men are affected. Children are also affected. Anxiety disorders are illnesses, believe to be caused by a combination of biological factors and an individual’s personal circumstances. Commonly, people suffer from more than one anxiety disorder along with another condition, such as depression, eating disorders or substance abuse. Anxiety disorders may be treated by drug therapy and/or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Anxiety Disorders
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder obsess over a maze of persistent, unwanted thoughts. When the pressure of these obsessive thoughts builds up, the person tries to relieve the buildup by performing compulsive rituals, again and again. For example, they may wash, check, arrange things or count, but the relief is only temporary. Common OCD obsessions revolve around contamination (fear of germs), doubts (not being sure whether the lights are off or the door locked) and disturbing sexual or religious thoughts.
The cause is believed to be neurological and/or genetic. OCD can occur in people of all ages, but usually during adolescence or early adulthood. It affects men and women equally. Because individuals with OCD may spend an hour or more every day carrying out rituals, relationships at work and home can suffer.
Diagnosis and Treatment
OCD tends to be under diagnosed and under treated, partly because many are ashamed and secretive or don’t believe they have a problem. In addition, many healthcare practitioners are not well informed about the condition.
Two effective treatments for OCD are medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Used together, these treatments can be effective.
Children with OCD may also suffer from conditions such as panic disorder, social phobia, depression, learning disorders, tic disorders, disruptive behaviour disorders and body dysmorphic disorder (imagined ugliness). Cognitive-behaviour therapy can help a child gain relief from OCD symptoms. Medication is generally given to children only when CBT has not achieved the desired results.
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
As the name suggests, panic disorder is expressed in panic attacks which occur without warning, accompanied by sudden feelings of terror. Physically, an attack may cause chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality and fear of dying. When a person avoids situations that he or she fears may cause a panic attack, his or her condition is described as panic disorder with agoraphobia (fear of open or public places).
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Panic Disorder
Phobias are divided into two categories: social phobia, which involves fear of social situations, and specific phobias, such as fear of flying, blood and heights. People with social phobia feel a paralysing, irrational self-consciousness about social situations. They have an intense fear of being observed or of doing something horribly wrong in front of other people. The feelings are so extreme that people with social phobia tend to avoid situations that might stimulate that fear, thereby dramatically reducing their ability to lead a normal life. Fear of flying, fear of heights and fear of open spaces are some typical specific phobias. People suffering from a specific phobia are overwhelmed by unreasonable fears, which they are unable to control. Exposure to feared situations can cause them extreme anxiety and panic, even if they recognize that their fears are illogical.
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Phobias
Sometimes people experience an event, which is so unexpected and so shattering that they re-live the situation in flashbacks and/or nightmares, eventually becoming emotionally numb. When this condition persists for over a month, it is diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder, which both children and adults can develop.
What causes it?
PTSD is caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others. Violent personal assault, such as rape or mugging, car or plane accidents, military combat, industrial accidents and natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, are stressors/triggers which have caused people to suffer from PTSD. In some cases, seeing another person harmed or killed, or learning that a close friend or family member is in serious danger has caused the disorder.
What are the signs?
The symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months of the traumatic event, but may surface many years later. The duration and strength of symptoms vary.
There are three categories of symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the event. The person has powerful, recurrent memories of the event, or recurrent nightmares or flashbacks in which they re-live their distressing experience. The anniversary of the triggering event, or situations which remind them of it, can also cause extreme discomfort.
- Avoidance and emotional numbing. Emotional numbing generally begins very soon after the event. A person with PTSD may withdraw from friends and family, lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed and have difficulty feeling emotions, especially those associated with intimacy. Feelings of extreme guilt are also common. In rare cases, a person may enter dissociative states, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several days, during which they believe they are re-living the episode, and behave as if it is happening all over again.
- Changes in sleeping patterns and increased alertness. Insomnia is common and some people with PTSD have difficulty concentrating and finishing tasks. Increased aggression can also result.
- Other illnesses may accompany PTSD
People with PTSD may develop a dependence on drugs or alcohol. They may become depressed and/or have another anxiety disorder. Dizziness, chest pain, gastrointestinal complaints and immune system problems may be linked to PTSD. The patient needs to volunteer information about a traumatic event, so that a doctor may investigate a possible link with psychological trauma.
How is PTSD treated?
Medication can help with the depression and anxiety often felt by people with PTSD, and assist in re-establishing regular sleep patterns. Cognitive-behavioural therapy and group therapy are generally felt to be more promising treatments. They’re often performed by therapists experienced in a particular type of trauma, such as rape counselors.
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder