Understanding anxiety disorders and their impact on individuals’ day to day lives
Anxiety disorders are becoming more recognised in society as individuals are speaking out and advocating for positive mental health change and inclusion. But does having a diagnosed anxiety disorder constitute having a disability? The simple answer is yes. Anxiety disorders in recent years have been identified as a disability when an individual is able to provide evidence that the anxiety disorder has a debilitating effect on their day-to-day life.
What characterises an anxiety disorder?
An anxiety disorder is characterised by feelings of persistent or intermittent fear, nervousness, tension and unease. There are different classifications of anxiety disorders, and all have different impacts on an individual’s life. The classifications are all symptom dependent and vary in their severity from mild to debilitating.
General anxiety disorder
To be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, an individual must be in a constant state of fear and unease for a period of at least 6 months. This type of anxiety disorder is not triggered by any specific event or activity but stems from the individuals’ general feelings of insecurity and unease from day-to-day living. This type of anxiety is commonly diagnosed alongside other mental conditions such as depression and social phobias. Mild presentations of generalised anxiety disorder can be managed with medications and therapies, while more severe cases can be very debilitating to an individual, impacting their ability to live a functional and fulfilling life.
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder (also known as OCD) is characterised by repetitive actions that are triggered by feelings of anxiety. It is understood that the compulsive actions are a form of coping mechanism to help an individual deal with stress and unease stemming from the anxiety itself. Everyone’s actions are unique to them; some examples include repetitive hand washing, clicking pens, turning keys in doors, turning light switches on and off or counting.
Panic disorders are characterised by bouts of fear and terror, constituting a physical ‘attack’ on the body. They have no single known cause but can come on suddenly when an individual feels overwhelmed by stress and anxiety most. The panic attacks have physical symptoms including heaving breathing and hyperventilating resulting in strain on the body’s respiratory system, raised heart rate and blood pressure. Panic attacks can last up to 10 minutes and need to be managed to avoid physical symptoms impacting the functions of the body.
Having a phobia disorder goes beyond an individual being scared by a situation, activity, object, or animal. The pure fear and terror are perceived as an actual threat to their being. The individual reacts excessively, causing both emotional and physical symptoms. Phobias are commonly associated with other forms of anxiety including panic attacks, and can be hard to manage, especially if the individual is commonly exposed to the perceived threat.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterised by a reaction to a specific event or situation that severely impacted the individual in a negative way. It is usually life threatening to them, their safety or their close family and friends. As a result, the individual reacts, expressing feelings of intense fear, terror and horror.
Managing anxiety disorders
Managing anxiety disorders can be a struggle, especially if the disorder has a significant impact on life, but it is important to understand that there is professional help to guide you through your treatment options. The types of available treatments will depend on the diagnosed anxiety disorder. The most important consideration is finding a health professional that is right for you and understands your individual needs.
For mild presentations of anxiety disorders, health professionals may suggest changes to your diet and lifestyle, changes to your work-life balance and physical exercise to improve overall health. More severe cases of anxiety disorders may require additional health supports, medications and/or therapies. This may include:
- Psychological treatments including cognitive behavioural therapies
- Medications including antidepressants and benzodiazepines
- Anxiety management strategies including breathing exercises, muscle relaxation therapies, and self-motivation and talking
- Online forums and support groups to engage you with other individuals in similar circumstances to give you perspectives and support for your disorder
Anxiety disorders and disability classification
Severe anxiety disorders are classified as psychosocial disabilities; the result of a disability arising from a mental health condition or issue. Psychosocial disabilities arise when an individual with mental health conditions interact in a social environment and individuals are prevented from undertaking tasks and interactions that others find normal. Having a psychosocial disability may prevent an individual from:
- Managing stress, including in the home, in social environments and in the workplace
- Concentrating on tasks at hand
- Interacting with others in family and social settings
- Coping with multiple tasks at once
It’s important to note that not all anxiety disorders are classified as psychosocial disabilities. The classification is dependent on the severity of their disorder and the impact that it has on an individuals’ recovery and life. Talk to your medical health professional about strategies to help you manage your anxiety disorder and whether further support through the NDIS may potentially be available to you.
Anxiety disorders and NDIS support
The NDIS has a dedicated framework to support individuals’ living with anxiety disorders that are classified as psychosocial disabilities. The Psychosocial Recovery-Orientated Framework is guided by comprehensive research into the mental illness area, medical articles and journals from medical professionals and consultations with medical professionals and experts in the field. The framework is also guided and being constantly improved by the experiences of its participants and their support systems. It outlines the supports available to individuals living with psychosocial disabilities, including:
- Assistance with personal recovery strategies
- Help in improving an individuals’ living circumstances
- Working with mental health professionals to create a comprehensive care plan
- Responsive strategies due to the fluctuated nature of the disability
The NDIS is committed to the long-term recovery of individuals living with mental illness related disabilities. Working with your medical health provider, the NDIS can create individualised support plans that are tailored to your needs to help guide you through managing your disorder.
You are not alone! Take the first step to managing your anxiety with ConnectAbility Australia
Having an anxiety disorder doesn’t need to control your life. You have the right to control your own life and not let your anxiety get the best of you. Similarly, the stigma associated with mental illness is slowly being reduced as more and more people understand why people suffer. You are not alone!
ConnectAbility Australia is an organisation dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities live long and meaningful lives. If you need support with managing your psychosocial disability, the caring and supportive team at ConnectAbility can help. From providing life skills, to social interactions, and access to medical health recommendations, ConnectAbility has the experience and knowledge to guide you through managing your condition. Get in touch with the team today on (02) 4962 1000 in Newcastle and (02) 4349 3700 on the Central Coast.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn