Employee & Community Health

Anxiety Disorders - What are they and how are they treated? 

5/23/2016 by Craig Sawchuk, PhD, LP

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How Common are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting nearly 30% of the population at some point in their lifetime. The most common anxiety disorders are specific phobias and social anxiety disorder, affecting 19 and 15 million individuals, respectively. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the least common anxiety disorder, impacting 2 million each year. Other types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Where Do Anxiety Disorders Come From?

Anxiety disorders typically come from a combination of biological, environmental and learned factors. Certain anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder, tend to run stronger in families. Sometimes, certain health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism and asthma, may mimic symptoms of anxiety. Environmental stress can also lead to the onset of anxiety disorders. Other anxiety disorders may be due to negative learning experiences.    

What Happens if Anxiety Disorders are Left Untreated?

The estimated annual economic burden of untreated anxiety disorders is approximately 60 billion dollars. These costs are due to lost wages, unemployment, and health care costs. In comparison to those without anxiety disorders, individuals with clinical anxiety are at greater risk for depression and substance abuse problems.

How are Anxiety Disorders Treated?

Anxiety disorders are very treatable mental health conditions. Unfortunately, only about one-third of individuals with anxiety disorders are receiving evidence-based care for their condition. The most effective treatments for anxiety disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication management. CBT is a skills-based approach in which individuals learn to gain control over their anxiety through facing their fears (exposure therapy) and directly challenging negative beliefs (cognitive reframing). The most common medications used to treat anxiety disorders are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). 

How Do I Get Help?

Talk to your health care provider about effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Many primary care teams are skilled in treating anxiety disorders with medication strategies. When looking for psychotherapy, be a good consumer of your care and ask to work with a clinician skilled in CBT approaches. CBT providers will often assign homework in-between sessions, which is extremely important in your recovery. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (www.abct.org) may be able to help located CBT providers in your area. Several self-help books on CBT for anxiety disorders are also available. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is an excellent resource for up-to-date information on anxiety disorders and their treatment (www.adaa.org).   

Dr. Craig Sawchuk is a clinical psychologist in Employee and Community Health's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health. He is the vice-chair of Integrated Behavioral Health and co-chair of Professionalism within the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Mayo Clinic Rochester.