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Anxiety Disorders

Claire N. Agard, PhD, CCTP, ADHD-CCSP  

Overview 

We all worry at some time in our lives. We worry that we’ll be unable to meet deadlines at school or at work, that we may have left the stove on, and about a myriad of things. Sometimes referred to as “nervousness”, this occasional worrying is a normal and expected part of life. This type of worrying can, sometimes, be good in that it  can focus our attention to danger around us, force us to problem-solve, and be a deterrent to procrastination.  

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health concerns that are qualitatively different from worry or nervousness. They are characterized by uncontrollable, irrational fear in response to perceived danger,  are not temporary, seem to worsen with time, and make it difficult to function on a day-to-day basis. The person with an anxiety disorder responds to things and/or situations with extreme dread causing disruption in their relationships. 

Facts and Statistics 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA, 2021),  Anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. While Anxiety disorders are extremely treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering from them receive treatment.  

  • It is not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. 
  • People with anxiety disorders are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those without the diagnosis.  
  • Many people with anxiety disorders also have a co-occurring psychiatric disorders or physical illnesses. 
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)  affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. GAD often co-occurs with major depression. 
  • Panic Disorder (PD) affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. 
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population. SAD is equally common among men and women and typically begins around age 13. 6% of people with SAD report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help. 
  • Specific phobias affect 19 million adults, or 8.7% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Symptoms typically begin in childhood; the average age of onset is 7 years old. 

Statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2021) reveal that: 

  • Approximately 8% of children and teenagers suffer from an anxiety disorder with most people developing symptoms before age 21. 
  • 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety. 
  • “Yes” answers to the question “Have you ever been diagnosed with anxiety” among children aged 6-17 years increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011–2012. 
  • Studies focused on racial or ethnic minority groups found that depression, stress, and anxiety due to disparities in social determinants of health, adverse childhood experiences, and racism/discrimination could place certain subpopulations at a higher risk for hypertension, cardiovascular reactivity, heart disease, and poor heart health outcomes. (CDC, 2020). 

Results of Mental Health America’s 2020 Screening revealed that: (Mental Health America, 2022) 

  • Rates of moderate to severe anxiety continue to be much higher than the 2019 average for individuals of every race/ethnicity.  
  • The proportion of people scoring with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety was highest among Native American or American Indian individuals in 2020 (84%). 

Anxiety and COVID-19 

According to the CDC, large disease outbreaks have been associated with increases in mental health difficulties and the COVID-19 pandemic was no different. (CDC, 2021). Below are statistics that demonstrate the impact of the pandemic on mental health and specifically on Anxiety Disorder diagnoses. 

  • More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December, an increase from 11% the previous year. (Nature, 2021). 
  • African Americans have suffered more from trauma, psychological distress and mental illness resulting from COVID. (Snowden and Snowden, 2021). 
  • During January 20, 2021–February 1, 2021, more than two in five adults aged ≥18 years reported experiencing symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder during the previous 7 days. One in four adults who experienced these symptoms reported that they needed but did not receive counseling or therapy for their mental health. (CDC, 2021). 
  • Increases in anxiety symptoms from August 2020 to February 2021 were largest among adults aged 18–29 years and those with less than a high school education. (CDC, 2021) 
  • The percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2% to 11.7%. (CDC, 2021). 
  • Caucasians were most likely to select coronavirus (27%) as the precipitating factor for their diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder. That number was followed by Latinx individuals (27%) and those who identified as more than one race (25%) (Mental Health America, 2022). 

Risk Factors for Development of Anxiety Disorders 

Like most mental illnesses, both genetic and environmental factors contribute to development of an anxiety disorder. While the risk factors can vary from disorder to disorder, there are a few general risk factors for all anxiety disorders. They include: 

  • A history of anxiety or other mental disorder in biological relatives. 
  • Traumatic experiences during early childhood and adulthood. 
  • Behavioral inhibition (the tendency to feel uncomfortable and to withdraw from unfamiliar people and situations) and shyness during childhood. 
  • Physical health conditions such as heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and/or thyroid dysfunction. 
  • Other mental health disorders such as depression. 
  • Use/misuse of drugs and/or alcohol. 

References 

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. September 19, 2021. Understand anxiety and depression.  

         Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Triumphing Through Science, Treatment and    

         Education. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. March 22, 2021. Anxiety and depression in children: Get the    

          facts. Children’s Mental Health.  

https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. May 6, 2020. Heart disease and mental health disorders

          Heart Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/mentalhealth.htm 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. April 1, 2021. Symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder and  

          Use of Mental Health Care Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, August  

          2020–February 2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7013e2.htm

Nature. February 3, 2021. COVID’s mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression

           Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z 

Mental Health America. 2022. How race matters: What we can learn from Mental Health America’s  

            Screening in 2020. Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/mental-health-data-2020 

Snowden, L. R, Snowden, Jonathan M. (2021, March 30). Coronavirus Trauma and African Americans’ Mental Health: Seizing Opportunities for Transformational Change. International Journal of Environmental 

           Research and Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8037715/ 

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