Anxiety disorders are becoming a widespread epidemic in America. Each year we spend more than $46 billion dollars, nearly one third of our total mental health bill, treating the almost 20 million Americans affected by anxiety disorders. With these staggering numbers, it is no surprise that researchers and experts are examining many different forms of treatment in order to find more and better ways to diagnose and treat these debilitating disorders. The American Psychiatric Association states that no single situation or condition causes anxiety disorders.
Rather, physical and environmental triggers may combine to create a particular anxiety illness. Psychoanalytic theory suggests that anxiety stems from unconscious conflicts that arose from discomfort during infancy or childhood. For example, a person may carry the unconscious conflict of sexual feelings toward the parent of the opposite sex. Or the person may have developed problems from experiencing an illness, fright or other emotionally laden event as a child. By this theory, anxiety can be resolved by identifying and resolving the unconscious conflict.
The symptoms that symbolize the conflict would then disappear. Learning theory says that anxiety is a learned behavior that can be unlearned. People who feel uncomfortable in a given situation or near a certain object will begin to avoid it. However, such avoidance can limit a patient’s ability to live a normal life. More recently, research has indicated that biochemical imbalances can be factors. Many scientists say all thoughts and feelings result from complex electrochemical interactions in the central nervous system.
Moreover, some studies indicate that infusions of certain biochemicals can cause a panic attack in some people. According to this theory, treatment of anxiety should correct these biochemical imbalances. Although medications first come to mind with this theory, remember that studies have found biochemical changes can occur as a result of emotional, psychological or behavioral changes. No doubt each of these theories is true to some extent. A person may develop or inherit a biological susceptibility to anxiety disorders.
Events in childhood may lead to certain fears that, over time, develop into a full-blown anxiety disorder. Dr. Rolland Bailey, D. O. states in a recent interview, “A variety of factors have been identified as possible causes of persistent anxiety. There is evidence it may be due to an imbalance of a chemical called serotonin n the brain. In people with anxiety disorders, it has been suggested that there is an excess of serotonin. Other chemicals may also be responsible for causing anxiety.
Persistent anxiety has also been shown to run in families, indicating a possible hereditary influence. Stressful events may also be causes or triggers of anxiety. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill several factors seem to contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder. Much new research suggests that these disorders both run in families and are the result of one’s brain chemistry. Certain life experiences and one’s general personality are also thought to influence the likelihood of having an anxiety disorder.
As indicated by James Herbert, Ph. D. Program Director and Associate Professor of Psychology at Hahnemann University that while no one knows for certain what causes social phobia, the scientific research suggests that both biological and environmental factors are probably involved. People with social phobia have also been shown to have certain biases in their thinking. For example, they often exaggerate the risks and dangers of certain social situations.
The treatment options are as varied as the number of professionals treating these disorders. The problem with treatment options for social anxiety disorders is that, unlike some other psychological problems, social anxiety is not well understood by the general public or by medical and mental health care professionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, social workers, and counselors. In fact, people with social anxiety are misdiagnosed almost 90% of the time.
People with social phobia are often labeled as “schizophrenic”, “manic-depressive”, “clinically depressed”, “panic disordered”, and “personality disordered”, among other damaging misdiagnoses. Social anxiety disorders, like other mental illnesses, reflect dysfunction within the brain, according to Dr. Steven Hyman, “we are beginning to understand the specific circuits in the brain that underlie the different illnesses” (1). Most people experience feeling of anxiety before an important event, so what separates these feeling from true mental disorders?
Anxiety disorders are illnesses that fill people’s lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear that are chronic, unremitting, and can grow progressively worse. Some individuals are so tormented by panic attacks and obsessive thoughts that they become housebound. Once the disorder is better understood the treatments for anxiety disorders become more successful. The National Institute of Mental Health explains that the various treatments of Social Anxiety Disorder are as diverse as the range of symptoms different patients experience.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder has been markedly successful. Research indicates that, after Cognitive Behavior Therapy, people with this problem report a changed life, one that is no longer controlled by fear and anxiety. National Institute of Mental Health funded studies report a 90% success rate using cognitive therapy and a behavioral therapy group. Both are essential to alleviating anxiety symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety medication is useful for many people.
For cases of generalized social anxiety, research indicates use of the anti-anxiety agents, and certain antidepressants in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have proven most beneficial. As to antidepressants, the Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAOI have the highest success rate when combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Medication without Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven to be only temporarily successful. The American Psychiatric Association claims that, generally, anxiety disorders are treated by a combination approach.
Phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders often are treated by behavior therapy. This involves exposing the patient to the feared object or situation under controlled circumstances, until the fear is cured or significantly reduced. Successfully treated with this method, many phobia patients have long-term recovery. The American Psychiatric Association goes on to say that medications are effective treatments, sometimes used alone and often-in combination with behavior therapy or other psychotherapy techniques.
In addition to behavior modification techniques and medication, talking issues out in psychotherapy can be crucial. The American Psychiatric Association research indicates that 65 percent of the phobic and obsessive-compulsive patients who can cooperate with the therapist and conscientiously follow instructions will recover with behavior therapy. Studies have shown that while they are taking the medications, 70 percent of the patients who suffer from panic attacks improve. Medication is effective for about half of those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America concludes that, many people don’t realize that most anxiety disorders have at least some biological component and often respond to medications. Medications have proven extremely effective in eliminating or reducing many of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and helping the patient regain control or his or her life. Taken under a doctor’s supervision, medications can play a valuable role in overcoming panic disorder, phobias and other anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Medication is most effective when combined with psychological therapies. The chance of recurrence is reduced when medication and psychological therapies are used together. The National Mental Health Association finds that treatment for anxiety disorders usually involves both medication and psychotherapy. Studies have shown with proper treatment, 70-80 percent of people with panic disorders significantly improve and often within 6-8 weeks. There are many different drugs used to treat anxiety symptoms; therefore, it is possible that if one type is not effective, another may be.
Many of these medications have side effects, so the patient should be monitored and observed closely. Behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy are also very effective in treating these disorders. Given this evidence, it is clear that there is no single, reliable treatment for social anxiety disorders. Medications or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, when used by themselves are only somewhat successful. When combined into a specifically designed program for each patient, these disorders can not only be treated, but also in a large number of cases, even cured.