Today’s post is part 4 in a series I’m doing on mental illness in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness month. Being a parent is tough. But sometimes it can get really tough. Have you ever observed unreasonable fears or unexplainable episodes in your son or daughter that caused you to wonder if something more was wrong with them than just having a bad day? They may have a panic or anxiety disorder.
My daughter began to show signs of high anxiety in high school. Her behavior baffled me. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Was she over-reacting or trying to get attention?
The symptoms can be extremely distressing and mysterious. You know something’s wrong, but can’t put your finger on it. If this is your situation, then you might find this information helpful. As overwhelming as panic disorder can be, please be encouraged to know this mental health issue is highly treatable.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, my source of this information (nami.org), panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitation, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. These episodes, called panic attacks, are uncontrollable panic responses to ordinary, non-threatening situations, and they’re the defining symptom for this disorder. More than two million American adults ages 18 – 54 have panic disorder in a given year. It typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood.
Many who are diagnosed with panic disorder develop intense anxiety between episodes. It’s not unusual for a person living with it to develop phobias about, for example, supermarkets or other everyday places or situations associated with past episodes. Usually long-term, distressing, and restrictive, phobias can lead to other serious problems, such as depression. As the frequency of panic attacks increases, a person may begin to avoid situations where they fear another attack may occur or where help would not be immediately available.
Symptoms: A person who experiences four or more panic attacks in a four-week period is said to be experiencing panic disorder. This may also be indicated if a person experiences fewer than four episodes but has recurrent or constant fears of having another attack. To be diagnosed with panic disorder, a person must experience at least four of the following symptoms during a panic attack – sweating, hot or cold flashes, choking or smothering sensations, racing heart, labored breathing, trembling, chest pains, faintness, disorientation, or feelings of dying, losing control, or losing one’s mind. As you can see, this is a debilitating and frightening experience.
Causes: Panic disorder seems to run in families and can be inherited. This suggests that there can be a genetic predisposition for it. Biological theories point to possible physical anomalies in a person’s nervous system. Panic attacks can happen to anyone. Chemical or hormonal imbalances, drugs or alcohol, stress, or other situational events can trigger these frightening episodes, which are often mistaken for heart attacks, heart disease, or respiratory problems.
Treatment: Most often, medication is used to prevent panic attacks. When used in combination with cognitive or behavioral therapy, the treatment allows people to overcome their fears and embrace recovery. For some individuals, structured cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy alone may be effective.
Recovery: Most people who live with panic disorder who are engaged in a personalized treatment plan, including effective medication and other treatment, find their symptoms are reduced enough to help them achieve recovery.
There is help.
Hope is real.
If you think your child is suffering from panic disorder take them for an evaluation as soon as possible if they’re a minor. If they’re an adult share this information with them and encourage them to consider seeking help. The sooner treatment begins, the sooner they can get relief.
Above all, remember this one thing – you are not alone.
May this Bible verse comfort you:
“Trust him at all times . . . pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge (Psalm 62:8).”