According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country. A prevalence rate of 19.1% of the adult population in the past year translates to an estimated 1,493,252 adults in North Carolina.  An estimated 31.1% or 2,431,203 NC adults have experienced an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.  For adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18, NIMH estimates that lifetime prevalence of a diagnosed anxiety disorder was 31.9% or 55,613 NC teens.  Of this number, about 8.3% or 4,616 have had severe anxiety.

Research has indicated that untreated youth with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance use.  Anxiety disorders often co-occur with other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  Research has indicated that children, teens, and college students are experiencing anxiety disorders at higher levels than in the past.

Common types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder (SAD). People with GAD suffer from excessive worry that they are unable to control and often display the following symptoms: restlessness or feeling on edge; fatigue; difficulty focusing; irritability; and often experience sleep problems. About 242,360 or 3.1% of NC adults suffer from GAD, yet less than half or 43.2% are receiving treatment. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. It is the most common anxiety disorder of older adults, age 65 or older, often due to a traumatic event such as a fall or serious illness.  GAD often co-occurs with major depression and substance use disorders.

Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent and sudden periods of intense fear. During a panic attack, a person may experience rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, and feel out of control. The individual may also worry about the unpredictability of its occurrence and may avoid places where panic attacks have occurred in the past.  About 211,088 or 2.7% of NC adults have experienced panic disorder, with women twice as likely to be affected as men.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) occurs when a person fears social or performance situations in which they think they will be embarrassed, judged, rejected, or offend others.  Symptoms may include feeling anxious about a situation where the individual may have to talk with others; feeling self-consciousness accompanied by potential humiliation, embarrassment, or rejection; fear of being judged negatively; difficulty making and keeping friends; blushing, sweating, or trembling around others; and feeling nauseous around others. These individuals may also worry well in advance of a social event or stay away from places that have the potential to trigger these symptoms. About 531,629 or 6.8% of NC adults are affected by SAD.  Both women and men suffer from SAD in equal numbers, with symptoms typically beginning around age 13.

Although anxiety disorders are treatable, only 39.6% of adults seek treatment, often years after symptoms are apparent.  Many have co-occurring disorders, with about half experiencing depression.  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are also anxiety disorders. It is not uncommon to have more than one anxiety disorder at the same time, while also experiencing symptoms of depression…Anxiety disorders are often initially diagnosed in the primary care setting; however therapy by a trained clinician (along with medication as prescribed by a physician) is often the best treatment. For treatment to be effective, all existing disorders need to be treated.  Effective evidence-based practices include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).