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Risk Factors and Poverty in Relation to Anxiety and PTSD

  • Date: 2012/07/25 (Rev. 2016/12/16)
  • Wendy Taormina-Weiss - Disabled World
  • Synopsis : Risk factors for anxiety disorder include things like a persons age gender family history and certain social factors.

Main Document

The number of adults in America who experience intense anxiety at some point in their lives is estimated to approach around 25%, although those who experience a true anxiety disorder is far lower. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of psychiatric condition in America affecting greater than 20 million people in this nation. Other names for anxiety disorders include Panic disorder, Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Phobias.

Anxiety - A general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life. Anxiety can include: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Separation Anxiety Disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is something that affects around 1-5% of people in America over the course of their lifetime and is more commonly experienced by women than men. GAD is the most common form of anxiety disorder among people of advanced age. GAD usually starts in a person's childhood and many times becomes a chronic disorder, especially if it remains untreated. Depression usually accompanies GAD, with depression during adolescence having the potential to be a strong predictor of GAD in a person's adulthood.

General Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders

The risk factors for an anxiety disorder include various things. For example; a person's age, gender, family history, and certain social factors can present them with risks associated with an anxiety disorder. What follows are descriptions of these risk factors.

  • The Person's Gender:

    Women, with the exception of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD), experience two-times the risk of an anxiety disorder men do. Various factors might increase the risk in women, to include cultural pressures to meet everyone else's needs except their own, as well as fewer self-restrictions on reporting any anxiety they experience to a physician.

  • Certain Medical Conditions:

    While no causal relationships have been established, certain medical conditions have been associated with an increased risk of experiencing a panic disorder. Medical conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, mitral valve prolapse, and premenstrual syndrome are included in the list of these medical conditions.

  • The Person's Age:

    OCD, phobias, as well as separation anxiety generally appear during early childhood. Panic disorder and social phobia are many times diagnosed during a person's teenage years. Studies have suggested that 3-5% of children and teenagers experience some form of anxiety disorder. Children and teenagers who have a form of anxiety disorder are also at risk of later developing additional anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and depression.

  • Family Dynamics and History:

    Anxiety disorders often run in families. Genetic factors might have a role, yet a person's family dynamics and psychological influences also have bearing. A number of studies demonstrate a strong correlation between the fears of a parent and the ones of their children. While an inherited trait might be present, some researchers think many children may learn phobias and fears simply through observing their parent or other loved one's phobic or fearful reactions to events.

  • Factors Related to Personality:

    A child's personality might indicate a lower or higher risk for future anxiety disorders. As an example, research has suggested that children who are extremely shy, as well as children who are likely to be the target of bullies, are at an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder later in their lives. Children who are unable to tolerate uncertainty are commonly worriers - a major predictor of generalized anxiety. The traits might be biologically-based and due to an amygdala that is hypersensitive. A person's amygdala is the, 'fear center,' in their brain.

  • The Experience of Traumatic Events:

    Traumatic events commonly trigger anxiety disorders in people who are susceptible to them due to genetic, psychological, or biochemical factors. The plainest example of this is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Specific traumatic events during a person's childhood, especially ones that threaten a child's family integrity such as child or spousal abuse, may also lead to additional emotional or anxiety disorders. Some people might even have a biological propensity for specific phobias, such as fears of snakes or spiders, that have been triggered and perpetuated after even a single exposure.

  • American Social Factors:

    Numerous studies have demonstrated a notable increase in the levels of anxiety in children and students in college over the past 20 years in comparison to children from the 1950s. In the studies, anxiety was associated with a lack of social connections as well as a sense of an environment that is more threatening. It also seems that populations that are more socially alienated experience higher levels of anxiety.

As an example, a study of Mexican adults who live in the State of California reported that Mexican-Americans who were native-born were 3 times more likely to experience an anxiety disorder and even more likely to experience depression as those who had recently come to America. The longer immigrants lived in America, the higher their risk of experiencing a form of psychiatric issue. In other words, traditional Mexican social and cultural ties appeared to protect new immigrants from experiencing forms of mental illnesses.

Specific Risk Factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A person's lifetime risk of experiencing PTSD in America might be as high as 8%. People who have been exposed to traumatic events are, of course, at highest risk of experiencing PTSD, although a number of people can experience these events and not experience PTSD. Studies have estimated that between 6-30% or more of people who have gone through a traumatic event do develop PTSD, and children and young people are among those at the high end of that range. Women have 2 times the risk of experiencing PTSD as men do.

Following the attack on the World Trade Towers, around 7.5% of the population of New York City reported experiencing PTSD within a month; a rate that declined to 0.6% after 6 months. Researchers are trying to figure out the factors that may increase a person's vulnerability to traumatic events, placing people at risk for the development of PTSD. Studies have demonstrated the following things might be risk factors.

  • Poverty
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • A lack of social support
  • A family history of anxiety
  • A pre-existing emotional disorder
  • Early separation from a person's parents
  • A history of child, spousal, physical, or sexual abuse or neglect
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or excessive daytime sleepiness

People with Disabilities, Trauma, and Anxiety

People who experience forms of disabilities and are on programs such as SSI or SSDI live on incomes that may very well fall below the federally recognized poverty line in America. Many of us lack adequate social supports. Due to things such as stigma, prejudice, and even social hatred, a number of us experience a pre-existing emotional disorder such as depression.

In the meantime some of the leaders of America, as well as some of our fellow Americans, want to place us on medical, 'vouchers,' and cut back on the social programs we rely upon. The question can only arise - how much trauma can this nation inflict on America's largest minority population? The unemployment rate for People with Disabilities has always been the highest; always, for example. The evidence is clear; some of the leadership in America is abusive and neglectful.

Children with disabilities are more likely to become the subject of bullying by other, non-disabled children in their schools and neighborhoods. Children who experience a form of disability are also more likely to experience abuse at the hands of caregivers who are not family members, or others - leading to an increased risk of an anxiety disorder. While it is a difficult subject to openly speak about, children and adolescents with disabilities are also at an increased risk of sexual abuse, also leading to an increased risk of anxiety disorders.

Studies have reported a prevalence of between 7-12% of social anxiety disorder in America, making it the 3rd most common psychiatric disorder in the nation. While women in America are more likely to develop social anxiety disorder than men are, equal numbers of women and men pursue treatment for anxiety. The majority of people who pursue anxiety treatment have experienced symptoms for at least a decade.


An Introduction to Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders in Poor Mothers More Likely Due to Poverty, Not Mental Illness

Anxiety Relief: How to Attack Anxiety When It Attacks You

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