Getting Help for Panic Disorder

Potential Barriers and How to Get the Help You Need

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Getting help for panic disorder is important. Photo © Microsoft

Have you experienced numerous panic attacks and wonder if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder? Do you believe that you or a loved one fit the criteria to be diagnosed with panic disorder? Have maladaptive and avoidance behaviors have you thinking that you may have agoraphobia?

If you are struggling with any of the symptoms of panic disorder, you are not alone. Many people are also trying to cope with strong feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic.

However, despite the intensity of their symptoms, a lot of people with panic disorder do not get the help necessary to treat their condition.

Research has indicated that there are numerous obstacles that seem to get in the way of seeking treatment for anxiety disorders.

Potential Barriers to Getting Help for Panic Disorder

  • Lack of Information

Panic disorder is a mental health condition that is often misunderstood and misrepresented. The general public has a lack of understanding, as seen by all the myths about panic disorder that are still prevalent in our society. Mental health professionals even disagree about the diagnostic criteria and proposed changes in the diagnosis of panic disorder. These issues have contributed to a general lack of understanding about panic disorder and other mental health conditions.

Many people who fit the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder are simply unaware of what this condition is and how it can be treated.

They may suffer in silence and loneliness, not knowing that panic disorder is a real and treatable condition. It is also not uncommon for people with panic symptoms to feel embarrassed discussing their concerns with their doctor. Talking to your doctor about panic disorder may seem uncomfortable at first.

However, your doctor should be able to help you get the treatment options you need.

  • Lack of Resources

There are many people who do not know where to seek professional help for panic disorder. Some may be unclear about the types of professionals who treat panic disorder. A lot of people also face financial issues, which may prevent them from getting the help they need. For example, medications, therapy, and follow-up appointments can be costly.

  • Social Stigma

Partly due to a lack of public understanding, there is still a social stigma about mental health disorders. Many people with panic disorder try to cover up their symptoms from others. Known as the panic secret, a lot of people will not let others know about their condition out of fear of how they will be perceived. They may worry that others will no longer like them or that they could lose their job if anyone found out.

The stigma of having a mental health condition has made many people want to try to handle panic disorder on their own.

Oftentimes, people put off treatment until their symptoms become worse. Many times, people with panic disorder do not get help until the difficulty of their symptoms far outweigh any feelings of shame and embarrassment associated with seeking treatment.

Studies have shown that those who seek out treatment early on are better able to cope with panic disorder, so it is important to push past social stigma and get the help you need. You wouldn’t expect to treat any other medical condition on your own, such as diabetes or a broken bone. So why should panic disorder be any different?

  • Misdiagnosis

Given that panic disorder presents with physical symptoms potentially attributable to the heart, lungs or nervous system, another obstacle to getting help for panic disorder is its misdiagnosis as a primary medical condition.

Getting the Help You Need

If you or someone you love is struggling with the symptoms of panic disorder, panic attacks, and/or agoraphobia, it is important to seek out treatment. There are many treatment options available that can help you manage your symptoms. A good place to start would be to make an appointment with your doctor. You may feel intimidated at first; however, your doctor is there to answer your important questions about panic disorder and provide you with any necessary treatment or referrals.

Some of the most common treatment options include:

  • Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy involves meeting with a mental health specialist to discuss your history and current symptoms. You will also begin a treatment plan. Through therapy, you will have the opportunity to explore your thoughts and feelings and learn how to cope with your condition.

Psychotherapy serves to help you manage your symptoms and improve your thoughts and behaviors. Some common forms of psychotherapy for panic disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy (PFPP), and group therapy.

  • Medication

There are several types of medication that can be used to help reduce the symptoms of panic disorder. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a class of antidepressants that are often prescribed to lessen anxiety. SSRIs can assist in decreasing the intensity of panic attacks and other physical symptoms of panic and anxiety. Benzodiazepines are another class of medication often prescribed to help ease anxiety. These medications are known to produce a sedative effect that helps you feel more calm during panic attacks.

  • Resources

If you suspect that you are experiencing panic disorder, it is important that you get the treatment you need. If you are uncertain where to begin to find help, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is a great place to start. The NIMH website provides valuable resources, including information on professionals in your area who can treat panic disorder. Similarly, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides facts and advocacy efforts for people with mental health conditions, including panic disorder.

Sources:

Coles, M. E. & Coleman, S. L. (2010) “Barriers to Treatment Seeking for Anxiety Disorders: Initial Data on the Role of Mental Health Literacy” Depression and Anxiety, 27, 63-71.

Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., Sampson, N. A., Jin, R. Druss, B., Wang, P. S., Wells, K. B., Pincus, H. A., & Kessler, R. C. (2011) “Barriers to mental health treatment: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication” Psychological Medicine, 41(8), 1751-1761.

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