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Home > Research Articles > Anxiety disorders becoming more prevalent

Stephanie DeMoor (U-WIRE)

Monday, March 25, 2002

Anxiety disorders becoming more prevalent (U-WIRE) By Stephanie DeMoor The Reveille ( Louisiana State U. ) (U-WIRE) BATON ROUGE, La. -- Kelly Druhan was a senior in high school and had a huge paper due, but she could not do it. She had "shut down" to the world. "I spent the entire day crying. My mom and my boyfriend sat down with me to help me and suggest sentences, but I just could not do it," Druhan said. This feeling of helplessness and anxiety is not uncommon. Druhan has generalized anxiety disorder, one of many different types of anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental disorders diagnosed in the United States. With midterms coming to an end and the semester in full swing, many students get anxious as they receive assignments and take exams. Students may get stressed out and anxious about the work due and should know the difference between "good" anxiety and "bad" anxiety. WHAT ARE ANXIETY DISORDERS? An estimated 28 million people in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders each year, according to an article on anxiety disorders by Rebecca Frey in the "Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine." Severe anxiety disorders interfere with everyday life. Frey said there are seven main types of anxiety disorders -- panic disorders, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety disorders because of substance abuse and anxiety disorders not otherwise specified. Being anxious about a paper or an upcoming test does not necessarily signify an anxiety disorder. According to the DSM-IV, to diagnose an anxiety disorder, the anxiety must be severe enough to interfere with a person's relationships and everyday life. Bjorn Meyer, assistant professor in clinical psychology, said students need to know the difference between a diagnosed anxiety disorder and simple anxiety. "To be a 'clinical' phobia, it must lead to significant distress," Meyer said. A PERSONAL VIEW OF GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER Druhan, a Kenner native and psychology junior, was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in October 2000. She first started having very noticeable problems after her grandfather died in 1994, and she saw a psychologist to get help. The summer before she started classes at Louisiana State University, she saw a social worker for counseling and began seeing her present psychologist last year. Druhan has a mild form of this disorder, and she saw symptoms as early as grammar school -- only she did not recognize them as symptoms of anxiety then. "Anxiety disorders run in my family," Druhan said. Since Druhan suffers from a mild form of anxiety, she does not feel nervous all the time, but it is obvious she suffers from more than the normal test anxiety most students feel. "I can go from being perfectly fine to saying that I can't do something," Druhan said. Druhan used to be afraid to even order her own food from a fast food place or call someone she did not know. She would get her parents or her boyfriend to do it for her. According to Druhan, there are many events that can trigger her anxiety "episodes," such as having many assignments at once. This leads her to "shut down," where she cannot do anything. "During one of my 'episodes,' it is hard to do much of anything. I just want to hide from everything and stay away from the world. All I want to do is sleep because it takes me away from the anxiety," Druhan said. However, she said sleep is only a temporary solution. It is effective at that moment, calming her down, but once she wakes up and finds her assignment still unfinished, it starts over again. A practicing Catholic, Druhan is a religious person, and while prayer normally helps her get through her days, even prayer is hard during her "episodes." "It's even hard to pray. I try to pray, but when I am that down, it's really hard to get out of it," Druhan said. To help control her anxiety, Druhan was prescribed an anti-anxiety drug called Paxil. She warns, however, that medications should be a last resort for anxiety cases since there are many effective ways to help this disorder. Druhan is majoring in psychology and is especially interested in anxiety disorders because she wants to let others know it is not a scary or mysterious thing and is very treatable. "It's funny because a lot of psychologists who do have problems as children or young adults are more interested in studying those problems to let others know about them," Druhan said. HOW LSU AIDS THOSE WITH ANXIETY DISORDERS As people get more familiar with the different types of mental disorders, they want to know what treatments are available. LSU has a Mental Health Center, located in the Student Health Center, which helps students who have mental health problems of any kind. M. Bernard Atkinson, Clinical Director at the Mental Health Center, said anxiety disorders are one of the more common disorders they see at the Center, second only to depression. Atkinson quoted a 1994 nationwide study saying more than 25 percent of the population has experienced an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. In a year, that rate is 17 percent. Of those people who have a disorder, more than half go untreated. Atkinson said even though anxiety disorders are treatable, more people suffer from the disorder than are actually treated. While there is no specific program for students who either have anxiety disorder or are just anxious in general, Atkinson said the center offers many alternatives for those who are suffering from an anxiety disorder. "We try to help them manage anxiety by having them examine their lifestyle," Atkinson said. Atkinson named three strategies students can take to help ease anxiety. One of the ways the center helps stressed-out students is to have them re-evaluate their everyday life using the acronym DRESS. This acronym states five ways to reduce stress -- Diet, Rest and Relaxation, Exercise, Sleep habits and Schedule. Of those five, Atkinson said he finds exercise to be the most important stress reliever because the person can work off the stress and do good for his or her body as well. The second strategy consists of ways to lower arousal or reduce anxiety. Atkinson said deep breathing is a good method to relax quickly. The center has a booklet called "Are you stressed?" giving examples of what is happening to the body during stress and what a person can do to lower their anxiety demonstrating such techniques as deep breathing, stress reducers and relaxation. Atkinson also said prayer, meditation and yoga are very effective for some people. The third strategy is counseling, where a student can meet with a counselor or psychiatrist to talk about specific life issues. "We try to tailor the treatment plan to fit the person's situation," Atkinson said. According to Atkinson, some other options the center offers are Crisis Intervention and Individual and Group Therapy.