People with anxiety disorders experience persistent fear, worry, or dread, which is out of proportion to the circumstances, causes them significant distress and/or interferes with their daily functioning.
There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Specific phobia (also known as simple phobia)
- Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia)
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
In the most recent update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) (1), separation anxiety disorder and selective mutism were added to anxiety disorders. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were removed from anxiety disorders and are recognized in the DSM-5 as separate disorders on their own (1). Due to the recency of these changes, the findings from existing research on anxiety disorders would likely have included OCD and PTSD.
Common symptoms of anxiety disorders are:
- persistent worrying and excessive fears
- increased irritability
- difficulty concentrating and paying attention
- easily distracted
- avoidance of feared situations
- social isolation or being withdrawn
- excessive shyness
- inability to relax
- problems with work, social or family life
- poor sleep
- Muscle tension
- somatic (body) complaints
Onset of anxiety disorders in young people
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem experienced by young Australians. Anxiety disorders are estimated to affect 1 in 5 females aged 16-24 years, and nearly 1 in 10 males of the same age (2). The most common anxiety disorders reported by young Australians are social anxiety disorder (5.4%) and post-traumatic stress disorder (7.7%) (2).
Overall, about half of people with anxiety disorders experience their first symptoms by the age of 11 years, which is significantly younger than for most other mental health problems (3). However, the typical age of onset varies between the different types of anxiety disorders: specific phobia and separation anxiety disorder often occur at a younger age than panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (4).
Anxiety disorders in young people rarely occur in isolation, and studies have found associations with other mental disorders, with depression in particular having high comorbidity (5). Anxiety disorders during adolescence are strong predictors of the subsequent onset and persistence of other mental and substance use disorders, and is associated with considerable burden of disease (6,7). These include drug and alcohol misuse, and reduced educational and occupational attainment.