Behavioral Health Programs: Treating Patients with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, more than 31% of people in the United States will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). In this blog post, we’ll focus on the latter.
While general anxiety disorder will affect about 6% of adults, many people will experience symptoms for years before seeking treatment. Others will never seek treatment. When left undiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated, GAD can lead to depression, substance use disorder, and other life-threatening conditions.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
GAD is often defined by excessive, pervasive worry that adversely impacts work, social, and academic interactions, as well as other everyday routines.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, symptoms of GAD include:
- Feeling nervous, irritable, or on edge
- Having a sense of impending danger or doom
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Upset stomach/nausea (and other gastrointestinal symptoms)
- Muscle tension
For an official diagnosis, patients typically experience symptoms like these on a near-daily basis for about six months.
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
From genetics to geography, generalized anxiety disorder has many causes.
Family history: Someone may be more likely to develop GAD if a relative has an anxiety disorder or other mental health condition.
Pre-existing health conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as autoimmune thyroiditis, can increase someone’s likelihood of developing generalized anxiety disorder.
Social and environmental factors: Violence, abuse, and other traumatic events (especially in childhood) can increase the possibility of GAD. Additionally, those who have experienced poverty, displacement, loss of cultural heritage, or other social inequalities are more vulnerable to developing generalized anxiety disorder.
In addition to family history, pre-existing health conditions, social inequality, and trauma, increasingly common and more recent causes for generalized anxiety disorder include social isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme distress about climate change.
Complications & Other Considerations for GAD
Generalized anxiety disorder often presents with – or can lead to or worsen – other physical or mental health conditions, including:
- Substance use
- Suicide ideation
Because of the wide range of causes for generalized anxiety disorder, as well potential coexisting conditions, behavioral health facilities can offer a range of treatment and care options.
Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Each case of GAD is unique, and, therefore, treatment will vary according to an individual’s needs and specific circumstances. In general, primary care physicians or psychiatrists will recommend medication and psychotherapy/cognitive behavioral therapy–or a combination of these methods.
Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for GAD: Psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy, involves a patient speaking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or social worker about their anxiety disorder. Under this umbrella is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on helping patients address and change their thinking patterns that support their anxiety-induced fears and worries.
Medication for GAD: While medication does not cure generalized anxiety disorder, it can help relieve its emotional and physical symptoms. Primary care physicians or psychiatrists may prescribe a medication(s) from one of three drug classifications: anti-anxiety, antidepressants, or beta-blockers.
Aside from medication and behavioral therapy, people experiencing generalized anxiety disorder might also be encouraged to implement lifestyle changes or seek out additional coping strategies such as dietary changes, meditation, yoga, exercise, or even exploring creative outlets.
Hospitalization for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders are typically treated on an outpatient basis. However, in some instances, hospitalization might be appropriate, especially when someone’s symptoms pose a threat to themselves or others.
Inpatient behavioral health services for someone experiencing generalized anxiety disorder may address both immediate and longer-term needs. Services might include evaluation, treatment planning, medication management, life skills training, recreational therapy, and individual, group, or family therapy. Most hospitalizations for GAD are short-term, but the actual duration of a residential treatment will depend on various factors.
Partial Hospitalization Programs for Anxiety Disorders
Partial hospitalization is another option for people experiencing moderate to severe generalized anxiety disorder. This option is for patients who might need more intensive treatment than routine outpatient care, but does not require the 24/7 monitoring hospitalization would provide.
Partial hospitalization behavioral health programs usually include a full day of sessions for a total of one to two weeks. These programs are typically community-based, meaning that in addition to individual therapy, patients participate in group sessions and activities.
Patient Education and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Like many other mental health conditions, generalized anxiety disorder often goes undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated. This is for many reasons, from the perceived stigma associated with someone seeking help for a mental health condition to a misdiagnosis from a primary care physician.
Undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated cases of generalized anxiety disorder can lead to higher use of health services, including hospitalization. That’s why patient education – as well as general community awareness – is so critical in helping people to recognize the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in themselves or others.
Among its many solutions for behavioral health programs, Horizon Health helps inpatient and outpatient BHUs identify strategies to increase access to mental health care, as well as to improve mental health outcomes and expand community outreach. Learn more about our clinical resources here.
Let’s Get to Work, Together
Contact us to learn more about how Horizon Health can help you start a behavioral health program or take an existing program to new heights.