Ashok J Bharucha Discusses How Anxiety and Stress Disorders Have Spiked In 2021
Amid a global pandemic, the world has experienced serious psychosocial stressors. The alarmingly high rates of mental illness and substance abuse in the USA were further accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis. Ashok J Bharucha, MD of Lackawanna County, PA, feels that while life has begun to gradually normalize for many dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, a general mistrust among the public towards one another and those in authority positions has begun to come to the forefront.
During the pandemic, clinicians began to notice an increase in anxiety and stress disorders nationwide, including cases of generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder (PD), acute stress disorder, and depression.
Given the multiple factors at play, scientists are still elucidating the causes of the dramatic rise in mental health problems during the pandemic, but they suspect the persistence of the virus is at least one important factor. The disruption in normal daily routines, disruption of social bonds, isolation, and a general sense of vulnerability (i.e., lack of safety) clearly have contributed to the problem.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left many feeling lost as they were forced to deal with its consequences in one way or another. The unpredictability of the situation and loss of control over everyday lives has adversely affected individuals’ ability to feel in charge of their lives.
What are Anxiety Disorders, and what causes them?
Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worry about an issue(s), to the point where it leads individuals to behave differently. The causes of anxiety disorder are incompletely understood, but scientists are discovering that genetics plays an important role in the vulnerability for anxiety disorders. However, many different factors interact to cause someone with genetic predispositions to develop full-blown anxiety or stress disorders. Ashok J Bharucha says that temperamental vulnerability, socioeconomic adversities, and life experiences such as trauma or other major stressors can often trigger an anxiety disorder in someone predisposed to developing problems later on.
How do Stress Disorders come about?
Stress disorders are the result of heightened reactions to common stressors in everyday life. These disorders often mimic the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or sleep disorders, and can cause noticeable changes in how someone behaves. The causes of stress disorders are often linked to the causes of anxiety disorder because both disorders share many symptoms. However, Ashok J Bharucha says there is still very little known about this link between stress and anxiety disorders. The lack of knowledge makes it much harder for clinicians to specifically treat patients with anxiety and stress Disorders.
How has 2021 induced anxiety and stress?
In 2021, many are just beginning to recover from the pandemic. While some are still cautious of others due to possible exposure to the virus, there is a growing sense of relief. The emergence of the delta variant of the virus, however, is heightening anxieties again. The fact that the virus continues to mutate and persist adds to a sense of loss of control which is so powerfully operative in anxiety and stress disorders. Not having a clear sense of definitive treatment(s) for the COVID-19 viruses, despite the availability of multiple effective vaccines, creates a period of uncertainty and void that is often filled by anxiety and stress.
How is 2021 dealing with anxiety and stress disorders?
There are many ways that clinicians are trying to deal with the increase in mental health symptoms, but there is not one treatment that addresses all symptoms or disorders. Many clinicians are pointing out how this has made their jobs incredibly difficult because of the complex clinical presentations that defy clear classification, and therefore selection of available treatment options.
Many therapists who were already managing depression, sleep disorders, anger management issues, etc., have started adding specific anxiety and stress disorder treatments when they became aware of the changes in their patient’s behavior.
Scientists are still unsure of the underlying mechanisms, but they suspect it might be due to the length of time that the virus has persisted. However, there is speculation that this new rise in anxiety and stress disorders, at least in part, is because of how long people have gone without any sense of security or normalcy, or a sense of solid social supports.
What can be done to help people cope?
Currently, most cases of anxiety and stress disorder in 2021 are treated with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), trauma-focused therapies, or pharmacological treatments such as antidepressants and/or benzodiazepines. The vast majority of these treatments are provided on an outpatient basis, meaning that patients do not need to be admitted into a hospital for treatment. However, some people might receive treatment within a hospital as an inpatient if their symptoms are severe, their functioning in the community is compromised, or outpatient treatments have failed.
For those diagnosed with mild to moderate forms of anxiety or stress disorders, care can be accommodated on an outpatient basis with weekly (or more frequent) psychotherapy treatment. In many cases, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is recommended because it has demonstrated robust results across a range of anxiety and stress disorders.
Coping With Anxiety
With the rise in stress and anxiety disorders in 2021, scientists have difficulty figuring out what factors have contributed to the change. However, the seemingly unending nature of the pandemic has likely played a major role. Detection of mental health symptoms is complicated because many individuals do not verbalize their distress, or the symptoms evade detection until there are obvious behavioral and functional changes in their lives.
Many therapists in 2021 have added stress disorder-specific treatments for their clients, but often pharmacotherapy is also necessary. Given the complex clinical presentations that defy clear diagnostic classification, assessment and management requires expert mental health consultation and treatment referrals.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the management of EconoTimes