Copyright 1995 The Denver Post Corporation
The Denver Post
May 1, 1995 Monday 2D EDITION
SECTION: LIVING; Pg. E-01
LENGTH: 913 words
HEADLINE: It's rare for sufferers of anxiety disorders to get help
BYLINE: Diane Eicher, Denver Post Health Writer
The images of violence seem inescapable.
There's a blown-up federal building and bloody Oklahoma City residents wandering dazed amid the rubble. Rescue workers look overwhelmed; clueless children are wide-eyed and terrified. A few days later an unsuspecting worker opens a package at a Sacramento, Calif., office and is killed when the bomb inside - attributed to a serial bomber nicknamed The Unabomber - goes off.
And just when we're able to console ourselves because those incidents seem far away and almost surreal, our own TV and radio airwaves and newspapers are full of yet another violent act: A heavily-armed man walks into a Littleton grocery store and kills three and wounds another before he is captured.
These are anxious times.
People who are actually involved in or witness traumatic events like the Oklahoma bombing or the grocery store shootings are vulnerable to a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder.
But the rest of us, too - just in trying to cope with the daily stresses of life, or seeing all the bad that goes on around us - may get hit with an anxiety disorder.
More than 28 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder each year; nearly one in four will be affected at some point in their lifetimes.
Anxiety disorders include conditions like phobias, generalized anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive behavior and post-traumatic stress.
They're the nation's most common mental health problem, costing the country more than $ 46 billions in absenteeism, job loss and alcohol or substance abuse.
"All these disorders have a biological component to them some people are more vulnerable to them," said Dr. Michael Weissberg, psychiatry professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
He said it's a rare person who wasn't affected by watching the coverage of the Oklahoma disaster, and symptoms as vague as insomnia after watching news reports can be a sign that something is wrong.
Some people are able to process the tragedy on their own and by talking about it, while for others, the anxiety created by such an event can linger and get worse, he said.
Some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders are easy to recognize: Your heart races every time you leave home, or you're fearful of social encounters of any kind.
You experience repeated episodes of extreme terror that include chest pain, difficulty breathing, a racing or pounding heartbeat, nausea and a fear of dying.
Or you're walking down a familiar street, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, you feel dizzy, out of control and terribly frightened.
Despite their seemingly terrifying - and disabling - nature, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. But only a fraction of the people who experience them get help, say experts. They may be embarrassed or afraid, or not realize there's a solution.
And most people's threshold for tolerating the discomfort created by an anxiety disorder is actually too high: They wait too long to seek help.
"Rarely does someone come in complaining of these symptoms and get told, 'This isn't a problem,' or 'Nothing to worry about,"' said CU's Weissberg.
"People often ascribe the symptoms to their character, or to their personality, and they tend to do all sorts of self-treatment before seeking professional help."
But anytime a condition starts impacting one's life - either by affecting work, or a marriage or other relationships - it's reasonable to talk to a doctor, he said.
An easy and inexpensive way to get help happens on Wednesday, named National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Free screenings will be offered around the country, including at 4 p.m. at the Colorado Psychiatric Hospital auditorium on the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center campus (call 270-8314) , and at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Northpoint Counseling Center, 11684 Huron St., Suite 106, Northglenn (no registration required).
For the locations of other facilities that will offer screening, call 1-800-442-2020. Participants will see a video that depicts the symptoms of anxiety disorders, complete an anonymous written test, and have an opportunity to meet with a mental health professional and get a referral if appropriate.
For more information on these various disorders, consider:
The American Psychiatric Association has a free pamphlet, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder;" write to APA, Dept. NYT, 1400 K St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. Another pamphlet, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," is available for $ 2.50 from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 6000 Executive Boulevard, No. 513, Rockville, Md. 20852.
To help those concerned about panic disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health offers free brochures and resource information. Call 1-800-647-2642 or write to the institute, Panic Disorder Education Program, Room 7C-02, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, Md. 20857.
There's a new toll-free hotline about obsession compulsive disorder, a biological condition involving intrusive thought and the compelling need to perform repetitive behaviors, such as excessive hand-washing and the need to check things over and over. Call 1-800-639-7462 for free booklets and access to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation.
A new paperback book by Jerilynn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of American, "Triumph Over Fear" (Bantam), discusses the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety, panic attacks and phobias.
GRAPHIC: PHOTO: Associated Press/David Longstreath STRESS: Watching coverage of the Oklahoma bombing can produce anxiety.