Anxiety, PTSD, Depression: The Invisible Plague

This week, in the course of my dissertation research, I discovered that 40 million adult Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. Now that’s a staggering statistic. Here’s one that’s even more remarkable: more than $43 billion each year is spent in the United States on recurring treatment for people with anxiety disorders. There are a few things about these two statistics that haunt me.

First is the fact that the treatment options that are available are so ineffective that they must be administered again, and again, and again. Does this mean that people suffering with an anxiety-related disorder are not experiencing relief from their symptoms? Or that the relief is so short-lived that they have to return for another dose?

Second is the sheer cost of the quasi-effective treatment each year: $43 billion. Wow. Pharmacology is a huge portion of that, I’m sure. But therapeutic options are also included. And that doesn’t take into account the number of people who give up on finding help or who refuse to admit there’s a problem in the first place.

Finally, I took a step back and considered what it might be like to live with an anxiety disorder. I have friends I served with who suffer from PTSD. A couple of my childhood friends live with generalized anxiety. Many of the people I’ve worked with over the years have managed to teeter-totter through high stress times with alternating anxiety and depression. Only a small portion have ever sought professional help. The others suffer in silence.

I spent some time further digging into PTSD treatment. As a close affiliate of stress, anxiety, and depression, PTSD is a new player in the game of anxiety disorders but one that’s gone undiagnosed for decades. Today it’s in the limelight but effective treatment options are, well, scarce.

Drug treatment is useful, particularly for more acute cases and in instances where PTSD accompanies a Traumatic Brain Injury. This is seen frequently in the military but not exclusively. Drug treatment has also seen some success when accompanied by Cognitive Behavior Treatment. In fact, CBT is the therapeutic option most successful at treating anxiety disorders, including PTSD.

However – there’s always a “but”, isn’t there? – according to the CBT licensing organization, there are only 58 practicing therapists who specialize in PTSD treatment across the United States. So for every PTSD specialist, there are approximately 130,000 patients for them to see regularly over the course of a 3-6 month treatment regimen.

So how do we get treatment to people suffering from anxiety disorders? How do we overcome stigma fears, and problems with access to treatment, and a general feeling that nothing will work?

Well, I’m working on it. Over the next few months, I’ll be testing the effectiveness of a new anxiety, depression, stress, and PTSD treatment program. If it works, people who suffer from the symptoms of such debilitating disorders will have the option to seek treatment

a. Anonymously
b. From the comfort of their own laptops
c. Without the requirement of a diagnosis, and
d. Engaged in the process with people who share their experiences, fears, and symptoms and who will make up a network of support that will last a lifetime

Imagine the impact such a treatment program could have on someone you love who suffers silently.  I know that even if it saves one life, changes one person’s outlook, and keeps one marriage together it’ll be worth more than its weight in gold.

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