People worry about many things; health, money, relationships or was the iron left on, did the lights get turned off, or what to fix for dinner. When this worry preoccupies someone’s life it can be characterized as an anxiety disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America and affect 20% of the population at any given time. Anxiety disorders generally occur twice as often in women as men. Although the disorder develops gradually and can begin at any point in the life cycle, the years of highest risk are between childhood and middle age.

When a person worries excessively about a variety of problems for at least six months the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) diagnoses it as an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders are unable to deal with their fears although many may actually realize that the amount of worry is more intense than the situation warrants. This excessive worry can create physical symptoms which may include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, irritability and nausea, or feeling out of breath or needing to go to the bathroom frequently. With the wide array of symptoms, anxiety disorders are difficult to diagnose. People may go to their primary care physician with symptoms such as headaches, lack of energy, or difficulty sleeping and may not recognize that the symptoms are a result of an anxiety disorder.

Once diagnosed the primary care physician may refer the individual to a mental health professional. Anxiety disorders can be treated effectively with medications or psychotherapy. According to NAMI, while some individuals do respond well to only medication or only psychotherapy, most respond best to a combination. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, a type of psychotherapy has been found to be especially useful in treating anxiety disorders. This therapy teaches a person different ways of thinking, behaving and reacting to the situations which can relieve the anxiety or worry.

The NIMH also supports other life-style changes such as having a good diet, getting enough sleep, stress management and regular exercise in dealing with anxiety disorders. They stress that the family of those with anxiety disorders need to be understanding and supportive as their loved ones seek treatment.

Treatment for mental illness is currently covered under many health insurance plans. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the coverage of mental health benefits and federal protections will expand in three ways. Mental health treatment will be available under the essential health benefits of the ACA, there will be federal protections to ensure mental health benefits are included in the individual and small group markets and more Americans will be provided with access to quality health care that includes coverage for mental health services.

In western North Carolina there are a number of agencies that may be able to provide the needed therapy and support services. If you would like to find out more about anxiety disorders and services you can contact NAMI Haywood (serving Haywood and Jackson) at 828-456-6897 or NAMI Appalachian South (serving Clay, Cherokee, Graham, Swain, Macon and Jackson) at 828-369-7385. The mission of the Evergreen Foundation is to improve access to and public awareness of quality prevention, treatment, and support services by the provider community to individuals and families with intellectual/developmental disabilities, behavioral health, and/or substance abuse needs in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. Grants are available to providers of services in western North Carolina through