Saturday, May 26, 2012

The “Hidden” OCD/Anxiety Epidemic

While shopping the clearance section at Half-Price Books as I often do (it’s my version of the hunting and fishing pastimes), I ran across a fantastic book, Shadow Syndromes, by John Ratey M.D. and Catherine Johnson, Ph.D. I almost always buy my medical and business books in the clearance section because the prices are a low, low, low $1-$3, and I figure even if I only get one idea from a book, it was well worth the money and time spent.
This book was an awesome find. It provides many valuable insights into the neuropsychiatry of “mild” or forme fruste (which the authors have renamed “shadow syndromes”) manifestations of psychological disorders, which as it often turns out, actually aren’t all that mild. Since the OCD/anxiety disorders are “spectrum disorders,” I had already come up with my own jazzy description of the forme fruste.
In jazz pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton’s landmark interview with Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress recordings, he referred to the influence of Cuban habanera rhythms in some of his tunes as “the Spanish tinge.” He remarked, “In fact, if you can't manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.” Since anxiety and OCD are often deemed “spectrum disorders,” instead of saying “I have a mental illness,” I opt to say more precisely, “I have an anxiety disorder with an ‘OCD tinge.’”
The authors, in their chapter titled “The Hidden Epidemic,” detail how startlingly common the “attention ‘surplus’ disorders” of anxiety/OCD/addiction actually are.
The authors estimate 70% of the population may suffer at least one classic anxiety symptom (you need several symptoms to meet the official criteria for a medical diagnosis). What psychiatrists see most are the disorders that involve fear. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Attacks, and OCD involve fear and dread, out of proportion with reality. There can be no doubt, we live in the Age of Anxiety.
Classic OCD was once thought to be rare, affecting only an estimated 0.2% of the population. This figure has been revised dramatically upwards to 3.65% -- one person in forty, or five million Americans. Brain Lock author Jeffrey M. Schwartz claims OCD “is more common than asthma or diabetes” (or so it may have been in the nineties, before the diabetes numbers skyrocketed to new heights).When the many variants of severe OCD as well as its shadow forms are included in the prevalence estimates, they rise so high the spectrum has achieved the dubious distinction of a “hidden epidemic.” Hidden, because those afflicted are often afraid to afraid to admit their troubling reactions to others, for fear of being labeled “crazy.” If misery loves company, and you have OCD/anxiety, you are not alone -- not by a long shot.
A survey by the OCD Foundation found that those afflicted have had to wait an average of 17 years from symptom onset to a receipt of an effective treatment. In my case, it took over twice as long as this average -- 36 years.

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