10 things you should know about GAD
What exactly is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), and how do you know if you have it?
JOHANNESBURG - Earlier this week, surprising developments in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial left a lot of people wondering if they, too, could be suffering from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
On Monday, the defence team called forensic psychiatrist Dr Merryll Vorster to the stand to testify about the athlete's mental condition in relation to the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp. She told the court Pistorius had been suffering from GAD for much of his life and that this may have played a role in his decision to fire the gun on 14 February 2013.
Just looking at Twitter that day, it seemed many of those watching had decided they were also battling with GAD. But it's not quite that simple, as it is a serious psychiatric disorder which, although fairly common, doesn't apply to anyone who feels the odd bout of anxiety.
With that in mind, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) has released information aimed at providing some clarity. Sadag says there has been an increase in misinformation and misunderstanding about mental illnesses such as GAD since the revelation in court, with real sufferers becoming scared of stigma and the reaction of others. Some are now also concerned they or a loved one are potentially dangerous.
So let's take a look at the facts:
1 - It's perfectly normal to feel anxious from time to time, particularly when you live in a stressful environment. But severe, ongoing anxiety that interferes with your daily functioning is not healthy.
2 - To be diagnosed with GAD, there are certain criteria that must be met, including excessive anxiety and worry most days of the week for at least six months, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, and anxiety that causes distress or interferes with daily life. In addition, patients feel restless, fatigued, can't concentrate, and have muscle tension or problems sleeping.
3 - GAD is a persistent, intense and excessive worrying of such severity that it interferes with someone's functioning. When you worry about everything, and your worrying takes up so much time and energy that you start slipping in your work and social responsibilities, there is a problem.
4 - GAD causes people to be hyper-aware of possible dangers such as illness, personal security, and possible natural disasters, and see things as more serious or dangerous than they actually are. "I feel anxious even when there's no reason to," says Lara, a 33-year-old woman diagnosed with GAD. "I often have this overwhelming feeling that something terrible is going to happen."
5 - The disorder can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical health conditions, like depression, insomnia, substance abuse, headaches, and stomach pain.
6 - Childhood trauma, chronic illness, stress, and genetics (anxiety may run in families) are some of the risk factors for GAD.
7 - Living with GAD can be a long-term challenge. GAD does more than just make you worry.
8 - Anxiety doesn't go away on its own and can get worse over time, so the earlier it is treated, the better.
9 - The condition is not dangerous - as was suggested in court. Anxiety is an introspective issue and sufferers of GAD are highly unlikely to be dangerous to others.
10 - More than twice as many women as men are diagnosed with GAD (which doesn't mean that men don't suffer from GAD).
Anxiety disorders like GAD are highly treatable and there are many treatment options available - therapy, medication and support groups play an important role, as do lifestyle changes. For more information, contact Sadag. The organisation has an extensive referral list and information available on their website and the counselling centre can be contacted on 0800 21 22 23 or 0800 567 567, seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.