Anxiety disorders can affect adults, as well as children. In fact, it is the most common psychological disorder in children and adolescents.
Anxiety disorders commonly occur alongside other mental or physical illnesses, such as depression. Some adults also suffer from alcohol or substance abuse. These can either mask or worsen anxiety symptoms.
The Singapore Mental Health Survey (2010) found that about 100,000 Singapore residents (aged 18 and above) had anxiety disorders at some point in their lives. It took an average of 6 to 9 years for persons with anxiety disorders to seek help from the onset of illness.
The more common anxiety disorders include:
Each anxiety disorder has its unique set of symptoms. But all the symptoms generally cluster around excessive, irrational fear and dread.
Persons with social phobia become excessively anxious and self-conscious in everyday social situations. They can worry about a dreaded situation for days or weeks.
This fear may become so severe that it interferes with work, school and other daily activities. Persons with social phobia may find it difficult to make and keep friends.
Persons with GAD go through the day filled with exaggerated worry and tension. And there is often little or no basis for such anxiety. They anticipate disaster and obsess about problems with their health, wealth, family and work.
Sometimes, just the thought of getting through the day produces feelings of anxiety. Physical symptoms include insomnia, stomach upset, restlessness, fatigue and difficulties in concentrating.
Persons with panic disorder find themselves seized with terror out of the sudden. This is usually accompanied by:
Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality or a fear of impending doom. The person is unable to predict when or where an attack will occur, and thus faces an intense worry about when the next attack will occur.
Persons with OCD have persistent and upsetting thoughts (obsessions) that lead to anxiety. They use repetitive behaviours or mental acts (compulsions) to alleviate the anxiety.
Common types of OCD include washing and cleaning compulsions and checking compulsions. For a person with washing and cleaning compulsions, he is obsessed with germs or dirt. He may develop a compulsive ritual to wash his hands or body over and over again. For a person with checking compulsions, he needs to repeatedly check things, count things, or touch things in a particular sequence.
Performing such rituals is not pleasurable. At best, it produces temporary relief from the anxiety created by obsessive thoughts.
PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal involving physical harm or the threat of physical harm. Persons with PTSD may have been the victim or witness of a traumatic event.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
Treatment options are specific to the type and severity of the anxiety disorder.
Encourage the person to join a self-help or support group, such as Sunshine Path.
Sunshine Path is a support group for persons with anxiety and mood disorders. The group meets once a month to share problems, experiences and support for one another. Persons recovering from anxiety disorders benefit greatly from being in a supportive environment.
Contact the SAMH Insight Centre at 1800–283 7019 for more information on the support group