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Intellectual Disability and Anxiety Disorders by malj


									Intellectual Disability and Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is part of the human condition. It helps us to manage difficult situations. It is
often referred to as 'being on edge', irritable, nervous, worried, tense, distressed,
upset, or apprehensive. However, when this anxiety is almost constant and
heightened it becomes counterproductive and interferes with a person's ability to live
a normal life.

What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a group of illnesses that include panic disorder, generalised
anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-
traumatic stress disorder. Linked through common characteristics, anxiety disorders
are the most prevalent of the major mental illnesses and are present in
15–20 per cent of the population.
People with intellectual disability also suffer from anxiety disorders, at a higher rate
than the general population. This may be due to reduced cognitive abilities and
increased vulnerability to environmental demands.

Recognising Anxiety Disorders
Changes in a person's emotional or behavioural state are classic signs/symptoms of
an anxiety disorder. A person with an anxiety disorder feels distressed for much of
the time, sometimes with no apparent reason.
There are several types of anxiety disorders with their own distinct features including:
    Generalised Anxiety Disorder: persistent, excessive or unrealistic worry about
     almost anything
    Social Anxiety Disorder: intense anxiety associated with social situations
    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: constant and unwanted thoughts and
     attempts to control those thoughts through ritualised actions
    Panic Disorder: Extreme panic attacks involving a range of unpleasant
     physical symptoms such as racing heart, sweating, upset stomach, dizziness
    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of
     situations etc, which can follow exposure to traumatic events
    Phobias: persistent, excessive irrational fears associated with certain situations
     or objects. These might include fear of heights, crowds, space, water, dogs,
     spiders, closed spaces, separation etc.
The symptoms for anxiety disorders fall into two categories:
    Feelings of apprehension and a fear of losing control
    Physical symptoms of distress.

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The symptoms are constant and affect thinking, perception, concentration and

What causes Anxiety Disorders?
The causes are different for each person and include combinations of biological and
social/environmental factors.
Some of the causes include:
    A reaction to a specific environmental cause or stress
    Genetic susceptibility: children of parents with an anxiety disorder are at greater
     risk of developing the condition
    An imbalance of chemicals in the brain which affects anxiety levels
    Physical health problems such as thyroid dysfunction
    Various medications
    Past or present physical, emotional or sexual abuses.

Getting Help
The first step is awareness and the time to get professional help is when the
behaviour changes. Speak to the person's general practitioner, their Service
Coordinator, a mental health professional, psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor .
For people with intellectual disability it may initially be useful to have a familiar person
go to an appointment with them as family or carers will be able to provide some
support and describe the changes they have noticed.
Data collection is a great help in the assessment, treatment and prevention of further
episodes. This sets in place an objective behaviour observation system that can
highlight patterns of behaviour changes over time.
With early diagnosis and treatment, symptoms can be reduced or eliminated, and the
long-term outlook is good.
Some treatment options may involve a combination of support, psychological
approaches and medication:
    Support may include information regarding anxiety disorders and treatment
     options. Support personnel can also look at addressing some of the
     environmental factors that may contribute to the stress levels
    Psychological approaches include the use of behavioural techniques such as
     desensitisation, graduated exposure and learning to relax. Counselling may
     involve the use of charts, pictures, photos, drawings, and diaries to help
     describe feelings and worries. They can also be valuable tools in supporting the
     person cope more effectively with their anxiety
    Medication can be used to help the brain restore its chemical balance and
     alleviate symptoms.

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Other Helpful Resources
Disability SA
Centre for Disability Health
Telephone: 8397 8100
Adult Mental Health Services
Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service (ACIS)
24 hours, 7 days per week
Telephone: 13 14 65 (statewide)
SANE Australia

Child and Youth Health

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Copies of this publication are available from the Disability Information Service
Tel: 1300 786 117 Email: Website:   Revised July 2008

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