How Common Are Anxiety Disorders in the United States?

With an estimated 40 million adults age 18 and older suffering from the effects of anxiety disorders, this classification of mental illness is considered the most common in the United States today, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Anxiety disorders aren’t limited to adults either. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders among children age 13 to 18 is 25.1%.

Considered highly treatable, this class of illnesses can present in a number of ways.

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term used to describe a number of specific conditions, including:

  • Panic disorder – This condition is estimated to affect 6 million Americans with women being twice as likely as men to suffer symptoms, according to the ADAA. This condition is characterized by the presence of panic attacks. Symptoms typically develop in early adulthood and include an irrational feeling of imminent danger, heart palpitations, sweating, chest pains, nausea and dizziness.
  • General anxiety disorder – The affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S. with women being twice as likely as men to suffer from its effects. The condition typically develops gradually throughout life with the risk highest in childhood through middle age. GAD is characterized by exaggerated worry and tension.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder – This condition impacts some 7.7 million Americans with women being more likely to suffer from its affects. Rape and childhood sexual abuse are common triggers, but this condition is also frequently reported in soldiers who have served in combat scenarios. The illness is characterized by flashbacks to the traumatic occurrence and an inappropriate triggering of the fight-or-flight reaction.
  • Phobias – Characterized by an irrational fear of something – heights, darkness, spiders and so on – this condition impacts about 19 million Americans with women being twice as likely to suffer. People with phobias will go out of their way to avoid the trigger. This condition may develop in childhood, but most commonly appears in adolescence and early adulthood.
  • Social anxiety disorder – This condition affects about 15 million people in America with an equal commonality in men and women. It is characterized by an extreme fear of being judged by others. The typical onset age is 13, according to ADAA.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive disorder – With an equal prevalence among men and women, this condition affects some 2.2 million Americans. The median age for symptoms to appear is 19, but some 25 percent of patients show symptoms by age 14. Symptoms include intrusive thoughts that compel sufferers to perform specific routines or ritualistic behaviors.

Dr. L. Kevin Chapman, a licensed clinical psychologist, attributes the high incidence of anxiety in the United States to two distinct factors, according to an article in Psychology Today. Chapman asserts that “keeping up with the Joneses,” also known as the normalcy bias, drives Americans to live beyond their means, causing anxiety. He also points to a deep need to achieve and be the best as a common factor, instead of searching for ways to lower our anxiety. Whatever the root causes, anxiety disorders are estimated to cost more than $42.3 billion to treat. A majority of the estimated costs are attributed to non-psychiatric medical treatment costs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

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