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In Fear's Grip?
Anxiety Screening Day Set, May 2

By Sophia Glezos Voit

Many people in the grip of fear — whether it comes out of the blue or is a constant, unwelcome companion — don't know they may actually have a treatable anxiety disorder. Instead, they often think they're "just that way" or have "good reason to worry" or are "destined to be miserable."

But if constant worry, feelings of panic, obsessive thoughts, emotional numbness, nightmares, fear of leaving home, social anxiety or related symptoms keep you from enjoying life or reaching your potential, you may want to seize the opportunity to get a free, anonymous, confidential screening on Wednesday, May 2, which is National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day.

The walk-in event for NIH staff — held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at six sites (in Bethesda, Rockville and Baltimore) — is sponsored by the quality of work life committee, with support from the Employee Assistance Program and NIMH. At each location, participants may view a short video about anxiety disorders, complete a questionnaire about symptoms, discuss results with a mental health professional, or just gather free information. No names will be asked, and no individual records kept.

Of all the disorders affecting the mind, emotions and behavior, anxiety disorders are the most common. Yet many sufferers believe their experience is unique — a belief that often intensifies a fear of seeking help. But once individuals learn that more than 19 million other adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, they begin to feel less alone, less embarrassed and more inclined to reach out.

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Whether palpable and specific, or vague and undefined, fearful thoughts or feelings underlie all anxiety disorders — in varying degrees. But each of the five types also has its own constellation of symptoms, which can include persistent worry (generalized anxiety disorder); "panic attacks" or sudden fear (panic disorder); hard-to-control thoughts and behaviors (obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD); intrusive memories, emotional numbness, and nightmares (post-traumatic stress disorder); and fear of harmless objects or situations (phobias).

A fear of leaving the house or traveling more than a few miles away (agoraphobia) and an avoidance of social interaction, even with friends (social phobia), are types of phobias.Depression also tends to accompany anxiety disorders. For more information about anxiety disorders, go to www.nimh.nih.gov/anxiety/anxietymenu.cfm on the NIMH web site; information about depression is at www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depressionmenu.cfm.

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is not known, but research shows that ordinary stress by itself is not usually the source. More typically, stress interacts with a biological predisposition to anxiety disorders before symptoms develop. The good news, though, is that effective, research-based treatments are available. They include short-term psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, the use of certain medications, or both.

The NIH screening sites are: Bldg. 10, Rm. 6C306; Bldg. 31, Level B2, Rm. B57; Executive Plaza North, Rm. 103; Neuroscience Center, Rm. E; Rockledge 2, Rm. 3015; and Bldg. C, Scanlon Conf. Rm., 5500 Nathan Shock Dr., Baltimore. Although individual screening will likely not take more than 45 minutes, participants may want to allow an hour.

If you're unable to attend the screening but would like to get help and/or a referral to a specialist, contact the Employee Assistance Program (496-3164); the National Mental Health Association (800/969-6642, www.nmha.org); or the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (301/231-9350, www.adaa.org).

Sign language interpreters will be provided upon request. For this or other reasonable accommodation, call the Work and Family Life Center at 435-1619 or TTY 480-0690.


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