Anxiety Disorders - Mental Health

Tips by Theme or Topic

Download / print

  1. Most common mental health condition
    1. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in America. While highly treatable, fewer than 40% of people with anxiety disorders will receive treatment. 
  2. Distinguishing between everyday anxiety and a disorder
    1. Viewers might not understand the differences between everyday feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Look for opportunities to show this distinction, so viewers can understand when to get help. 
  3. Diminish fears with realistic depictions of treatment
    1. Some people associate treatment for anxiety disorders with exposure therapy, which can deter those struggling from seeking help. Provide realistic depictions of treatment to diminish fears and misconceptions. 
In This Is Us, Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown, has been coping with anxiety since he was a child, and experiences crippling panic attacks when overwhelmed. (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Storytelling Tips

Portray a Range of Mental Health Experiences
  • Illustrate the differences between the feeling of being anxious and experiencing an anxiety disorder. 
  • People living with anxiety disorders deal with the reality that most of their friends and family members may not understand the difference between the everyday anxiety they experience and the heightened levels of worry and fear connected to these disorders.
Diversify Representation
  • Show people of all backgrounds dealing with anxiety. 
  • We generally see white characters and cast members in storylines that deal with anxiety. While it’s true that these disorders are most prevalent in the white population, these conditions are not uncommon in the Black, Asian American, and Hispanic communities.
Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment
  • Depict exposure therapy and other treatments for anxiety in a realistic way to help diminish fear and misconceptions. 
  • Depictions of treatment for anxiety disorders sometimes involve exposure therapy, which can be frightening without the proper context, especially for individuals with phobias or social anxiety who are reluctant to confront things that might cause extreme levels of fear. 
Highlight the Power of Coping Skills and Self-Care
  • Show coping strategies for anxiety in action. 
  • Anxiety can be managed with the right coping strategies, like breathing exercises, journaling, and meditation.
Represent the Complex Causes of Mental Health Challenges
  • Help audiences understand that anxiety disorders are caused by a range of biological, environmental, and situational factors. 
  • Perceptions that people struggling with phobias or social anxiety are weak or scared can prevent people from reaching out for help. 
  • These conditions are more than just everyday fears or worries. Helping viewers understand the complex causes of anxiety disorders can reduce this barrier to help-seeking. 
Consider the Impact of Language
  • Avoid using terms like OCD to describe someone who is detail oriented. This misuse of language can create confusion about the seriousness of that condition and be hurtful to people living with this disorder.


Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives. It can be related to work, school, relationships, current events, or other internal or external stressors. Generally, coping and self-care skills are effective in managing anxious feelings but when anxiety starts to interfere with a person’s ability to get things done or maintain healthy relationships, it may mean they are dealing with an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States. It’s estimated that nearly 20% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder within any given year. The primary types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder/panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anxiety disorders and depression frequently coexist, with approximately half of people diagnosed with depression also experiencing an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but less than 40% of people experiencing an anxiety disorder will receive treatment. 

Facts & Stats

White Americans have the highest prevalence of anxiety disorders, followed by Black Americans, Asian Americans and then Hispanic Americans. 
People with an anxiety disorder are 6 times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders. 
People living with anxiety disorders are more likely to attempt suicide than those without those conditions. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized anxiety disorders involve excessive anxiety or worry most days for at least 6 months in a way that interferes with school, work, relationships, or quality of life. 
  • Panic disorder involves recurring and unexpected panic attacks, which are surges of intense fear that escalate quickly. These attacks can occur without warning and are often brought on by a trigger-like a feared object, situation, or outcome. 
  • Phobias are intense fears of specific objects or situations. While there are certain situations that would cause anyone to feel anxious, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object.
  • Social anxiety disorder involves an intense fear of social or performance situations. People with this condition worry that actions or behaviors related to their anxiety will make a negative impression on others and lead to embarrassment. This condition can cause people to avoid social situations and become isolated. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are associated with anxiety. OCD is covered later in this section and PTSD is covered in the Trauma section of this guide. 

Symptoms & Warning Signs

  • Nervousness or restless feelings
  • Impending sense of danger, panic or doom
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns (specifically having trouble sleeping)
  • Digestive issues or nausea 
  • Avoidance of things that might trigger anxiety
  • Significant change in appetite and/or weight
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Treatment Options

  • Talk therapy is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders, with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) being the most common approach used in these sessions. This form of talk therapy involves examining negative thoughts and their impact on anxiety, and how a person reacts or behaves in response to anxiety. 
  • Medications that help control anxiety are generally safe and effective. Medication works best in combination with talk therapy and a self-care plan.
  • Exposure therapy is a form of CBT that gradually exposes a person to the triggers associated with their anxiety in a safe, therapeutic environment. 
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) uses visual stimulation while a person recalls a painful memory or anxiety trigger to try and lessen the disturbing feelings around that trigger. Some studies have shown that EMDR is effective in treating certain types of anxiety. 
  • Self-care and wellness practices including meditation, journaling, exercise, and nutrition can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Need more guidance on depicting Anxiety Disorders? Browse the expert directory >

Download / print

more in part 6