Study: Most Canadians With Anxiety Disorder Show Ample Recovery

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New research from the University of Toronto provides good news to those with a history of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the most common type of psychiatric illness. Investigators reviewed three levels of recovery in a large, representative sample of more than 2,000 Canadians with a history of GAD and discovered 72 percent of Canadians with a history of GAD have been free of the mental health condition for at least one year.

Investigators discovered that 40 percent of the study population were in a state of excellent mental health. Moreover, almost 60 percent had no other mental illness or addiction issues, such as suicidal thoughts, substance dependence, a major depressive disorder or a bipolar disorder, in the past year,

“We were so encouraged to learn that even among those whose anxiety disorders had lasted a decade or longer, half had been in remission from GAD for the past year and one-quarter had achieved excellent mental health and well-being,” said Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study and director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging.

The definition of excellent mental health is rigorous. To be defined in excellent mental health, respondents had to achieve three things:

  • almost daily happiness or life satisfaction in the past month;
  • high levels of social and psychological well-being in the past month, and;
  • freedom from generalized anxiety disorder and depressive disorders, suicidal thoughts and substance dependence for at least the preceding full year.

“This research provides a very hopeful message for individuals struggling with anxiety, their families and health professionals,” Fuller-Thomson said. “Our findings suggest that full recovery is possible, even among those who have suffered for many years with the disorder.”

The research appears online ahead of press in the Journal of Affective Disorders .

Individuals who had at least one person in their lives who provided them with a sense of emotional security and well-being were three times more likely to be in excellent mental health than those without a confidant.

“For those with anxiety disorders, the social support that extends from a confidant can foster a sense of belonging and self-worth which may promote recovery” said co-author Kandace Ryckman, M.S.P.H.

In addition, those who turned to their religious or spiritual beliefs to cope with everyday difficulties had 36 percent higher odds of excellent mental health than those who did not use spiritual coping. “Other researchers have also found a strong link between recovery from mental illness and belief in a higher power,” Fuller-Thomson noted.

The researchers found that poor physical health, functional limitations, insomnia and a history of depression were impediments to excellent mental health in the sample.

“Health professionals who are treating individuals with anxiety disorders need to consider their patients’ physical health problems and social isolation in their treatment plans” said Ryckman.

The researchers examined a nationally representative sample of 2,128 Canadian community-dwelling adults who had a generalized anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. The data were drawn from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.

Source: University of Toronto/EurekAlert

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