Many people with anxiety can fully recover, study finds

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Anxiety disorders are the most common type of psychiatric illness, yet researchers know very little about factors associated with recovery.

In a new study from the University of Toronto, researchers tested more than 2,000 Canadians with a history of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

They find that 72% of Canadians with a history of GAD have been free of mental health conditions for at least one year.

Overall, 40% were in a state of excellent mental health, and almost 60% had no other mental illness or addiction issues, such as suicidal thoughts, substance dependence, a major depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder.

The definition of excellent mental health sets a very high bar.

To be defined as excellent mental health, respondents had to achieve three things: 1) almost daily happiness or life satisfaction in the past month, 2) high levels of social and psychological well-being in the past month, and 3) freedom from generalized anxiety disorder and depressive disorders, suicidal thoughts and substance dependence for at least the preceding full year.

This research provides a very hopeful message for individuals struggling with anxiety, their families, and health professionals.

The findings suggest that full recovery is possible, even among those who have suffered for many years with the disorder.

The team also found individuals who had at least one person in their lives who provided them with a sense of emotional security and well-being were three times more likely to be in excellent mental health than those without a confidant.

In addition, those who turned to their religious or spiritual beliefs to cope with everyday difficulties had 36% higher odds of excellent mental health than those who did not use spiritual coping.

The researchers found that poor physical health, functional limitations, insomnia, and a history of depression were impediments to excellent mental health in the sample.

They suggest health professionals who are treating individuals with anxiety disorders need to consider their patients’ physical health problems and social isolation in their treatment plans.

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The study is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. One author of the study is Esme Fuller-Thomson.

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