Anxiety for the Masses

WASHINGTON--Calm down, anxiety isn't being overlooked at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). At a press conference here today, NIMH director Steven Hyman announced the launch of an Anxiety Disorders Education Program to disseminate information about anxiety to the general public.

Anxiety disorders--phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and plain old generalized anxiety--afflict some 23 million people in the United States. But according to NIMH, the general public and even many professionals are ignorant about these conditions. For instance, obsessive-compulsive disorder used to be thought ``the most rare of psychiatric illnesses,'' said NIMH's acting scientific director Susan Swedo, but it's now known to occur in one in 50 adults. And Swedo said it's a brain disorder--not ``the result of defective toilet training,'' as many professionals believed as recently as a decade ago. Such conditions, she said, are now treatable with drugs and psychotherapy.

The 3-year anxiety campaign, modeled after a long-running NIMH educational effort on depression, is aimed at primary-care physicians as well as the lay public. Next year, NIMH will spend $1 million on the effort, which will include public service announcements, seminars, outreach efforts to special populations, and a toll-free number: 1-888-8-ANXIETY. For further information contact NIMH's Web site: