Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults each year. With so many people struggling with anxiety, it is helpful to understand the different types and their prevalence.
What are the different types of anxiety disorders?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are several different types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Specific Phobias
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Illness Anxiety Disorder
Each anxiety disorder has its own unique symptoms and manifestations. For example, the hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder is chronic worrying, while social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme fear in social settings. Panic attacks are the main feature of panic disorder.
What is the most common type of anxiety disorder?
Research shows that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most frequently occurring anxiety disorder. According to the NIMH, approximately 6.8 million adults in the United States suffer from GAD, equaling 3.1% of the total population.
People with GAD experience excessive anxiety and worry about many different activities and events. Their worries are difficult to control and often disproportionate to actual circumstances. Adults with GAD often have physical anxiety symptoms like fatigue, stomachaches, muscle tension, and insomnia. The chronic worrying associated with GAD can significantly interfere with daily life.
Prevalence of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
As the table shows, generalized anxiety disorder is nearly twice as common in women compared to men. Researchers believe this gender difference may be partially due to biological and hormonal factors.
Age of Onset for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
GAD often emerges in childhood or adolescence, but can develop at any point throughout one’s life. The average age of onset is approximately 30 years old.
Second most common: Social anxiety disorder
After generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder is the second most common type of anxiety disorder in the United States.
People with social anxiety disorder have an intense fear of social situations and interactions. They are afraid that they will be scrutinized or judged negatively by others. This leads to avoidance of social events and speaking engagements.
According to recent statistics, approximately 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder, equaling 6.8% of the population. Women are again more likely to be affected than men.
Common Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Intense fear of social situations
- Avoidance of events with possible scrutiny
- Extreme anxiety around meeting new people
- Fear of embarrassment or humiliation
- Self-isolation and loneliness
Onset of social phobia often occurs in the early teen years. Without treatment, it tends to be a lifelong problem causing significant impacts on school, work, and social life.
Third most common: Specific phobias
After generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder, specific phobias are the third most frequent anxiety disorder in American adults.
A specific phobia is defined as an intense, persistent fear reaction to a particular object or situation. The fear is irrational, disproportionate to any actual danger, and leads to avoidance behavior.
There are many different types of specific phobias. Some of the most common are:
- Fear of flying
- Fear of heights
- Fear of thunder and lightning
- Fear of animals like dogs or snakes
- Fear of needles
- Fear of germs or contamination
An estimated 12.5% of American adults experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives. Women have higher rates of specific phobias than men.
Symptoms of a Phobia
- Intense fear when exposed to the object/situation
- Immediate anxiety response when object/situation is encountered
- Avoidance behavior
- Full-blown panic attacks in some cases
When faced with the phobic stimulus, the individual experiences a fight-flight-freeze response. They may exhibit signs of panic like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, and nausea.
Other common anxiety disorders
In addition to generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and specific phobias, other moderately common anxiety disorders include:
- Panic disorder – characterized by sudden attacks of intense fear and anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms. Approximately 2.7% of adults have panic disorder.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – involves intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors. Around 1.2% of adults have OCD.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – develops after exposure to a terrifying event. Approximately 3.6% of adults develop PTSD in their lifetime.
While not as prevalent as the disorders above, these anxiety conditions still impact millions of Americans. Effective treatment is available through medications and psychotherapy.
In summary, generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety disorder, affecting over 6 million American adults. Social anxiety disorder and specific phobias are the second and third most frequent anxiety disorders, respectively.
Other moderately prevalent anxiety disorders include panic disorder, OCD, and PTSD. Each condition has its own symptoms and treatment approaches.
Understanding the prevalence of different anxiety disorders can help those suffering realize they are not alone. There are many support and treatment resources available to start overcoming anxiety.