How Common is Anxiety and What Causes It?
GAD isn’t the newest variant of the COVID-19 virus but stands for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In my last blog, I discussed basics of anxiety and the fight, flight, and freeze response, common appropriate fears and anxieties, and when anxiety becomes problematic for teens and young adults. Anxiety disorders are the most reported mental health issue in the United States. According to the American Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 19.1% of the U.S. adult population (or 40 million people) struggles with anxiety. Symptoms are oftentimes present prior to 21 years of age and their severity can vary at different points. Causes of anxiety include genetic (especially family history) and environmental factors, brain chemistry, personality type, and life events. While anxiety is highly treatable, estimates indicate only approximately 37% follow through with treatment.
What Do the Data Say for Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults?
Data for children in the US indicates 7.1% of those aged 3 – 17 years (approximately 4.4 million) were formally diagnosed with anxiety from 2007 – 2012. Rates for 18 – 29 years of age were at 22.3%. Data show that anxiety rates are typically for 2x higher for females than males across all age groups and they are more likely to report symptoms than males. Perhaps not shocking is those with anxiety are 3 – 5x more likely to visit a doctor, oftentimes due to related physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, gastrointestinal issues, unexplained aches and pains appetite changes, and sleep difficulties). Additionally, people with anxiety are 6x more likely to be psychiatrically hospitalized than who don’t.
Specifically, What About Statistics for GAD?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a common subtype of anxiety disorders that involve excessive and ongoing worry and anxiety across many situations and it’s possible to develop GAD at any age. GAD is extremely difficult to control and it interferes with functioning in day-to-day activities and responsibilities. Overall, 3.1% of US adults (6.8 million) have GAD, with 43.2% seeking treatment. Conversely, approximately 8% of teens receive formal diagnosis, with only 20% receiving help. Those with GAD will likely have Major Depressive Disorder diagnosis cooccurring.
OK, So GAD is a Type of Anxiety. What Separates it From Normal Anxiety?
Normal anxiety is a healthy emotion that helps us avoid dangerous situations. Symptoms include feeling nervous, increased heartbeat, sweating, feeling week and/or tired, difficulty concentrating, increased sensitivity to surroundings, and difficulty sleeping. Typical anxiety occurs in response to a stressor and when it is over, the symptoms stop. GAD, however, leaves you feeling anxious, most or all the time, even when you can’t figure out the source of the stressor. The intensity and length of normal anxiety is temporary, whereas with GAD it is ongoing, intense, and excessive and lasts at least 6 months or more. GAD causes you to always expect disaster and/or catastrophes and have unrealistic thoughts that are out of proportion to a stressor such as work, school, social activities, and relationships.
The physical symptoms of GAD are similar to those of normal anxiety but are persistent and may leave you feeling as if you can’t talk, can’t breathe, or need to use the bathroom frequently. Psychologically, GAD can leave you feeling detached and disconnected from reality and can’t think straight, with negative, racing thoughts and worrying daily. GAD also causes impairment in day-to-day functioning that can lead to avoidance of activities or situations. With typical anxiety, you usually feel a sense of ability to reduce or control symptoms through various healthy, coping skills. However, those with GAD oftentimes feel a lack of control over events or situations and have significant difficulty finding relaxation, calm, and regulating emotions. Coping with GAD symptoms can be a long-term challenge due to the levels of impairment it can cause in different life areas.
Houston, I Think We Have a Problem. What Do I Do?
In looking at behaviors, be aware of what is typical for your teen or young adult; some have a higher baseline anxiety level than others. Especially note things that seem out of the ordinary and/or are intense and persistent causing avoidance or extreme distress for your teen or young adult. GAD requires formal diagnosis by a professional based on criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders V. The number of criteria to be met by teens is less than that that of adults. Therapy can help to manage the physical and psychological symptoms of GAD and medications are available as well.
Everything presented here was meant to help gauge where you feel your teen or young adult is at; you know them better than anyone. If you feel something is wrong, get more information to best support them.
For more information on Small Town Counseling services for children and teens, what to expect, and/or scheduling an appointment check out our Child and Teen Counseling Services or call 209-968-1707. FAQs and resources for anxiety are available in our Good Reads! For additional parenting resources visit Parenting Resources.
OMG, GAD! What is It? Does My Teen or Young Adult Have It? is written by David Cayton, M.A, M.S.. David has experience as a mental health professional working with children, teens, and professionals, an academic advisor, education-based research assistant, and student affairs at colleges and universities. At the time of this publishing, David Cayton is Trainer and Research Associate at Small Town Counseling® a group mental health practice located in California that helps individuals, groups, and organizations in promoting mental wellness and education on trauma and anxiety through mental health services and training.
American Psychiatric Association – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders – https://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm05
American Association of Anxiety and Depression – Facts and Statistics – https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health – https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html
Mayo Clinic – Generalized Anxiety Disorder – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20360803
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Anxiety Disorders – https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
National Institute of Mental Health – Any Anxiety Disorder – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder
Polaris Teen Center – Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Teens – https://polaristeen.com/articles/generalized-anxiety-disorder-in-teens/
Psych2go – 5 Differences Between Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Anxiety – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RBrF_FVCnU