Report: New Studies on Anxiety

Patient Expert

It's always interesting to see what scientists are coming up with in terms of new studies.   Results don't always give useful information, and when they do, it will often take years before that information can be used to provide help for individuals suffering from a disorder.   But it's comforting to know that new research may eventually lead to prevention, cure, or better ways of handling our anxiety.

In a recent study reported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), researchers engineered a strain of mice lacking serotonin 2A receptors, thought to be responsible for inhibiting actions that normally would seem risky.   These mice would not hide in dark, safer areas, for example, but explore open, lighted areas that normal mice would avoid.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), this study confirms "that the receptors in the brain's thinking hub, as opposed to other areas where they exist, are critical for assessing risks. They also suggest that anti-anxiety drugs work by chronically blocking and causing a reduction in the gene expression for the 2A receptors, a process that typically takes a few weeks."   Studies like this one should eventually lead to better treatments for this type of conflict anxiety.

When I first read about these mice, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have that serotonin 2A receptor taken out of MY brain?   Then I wouldn't be afraid of anything"   But we don't really want to go there.   Our brains are not quite that simple, and we still need to fear truly dangerous situations.

Another study by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), reported on their Web site, indicates that demand for mental health services, especially for anxiety disorders, has risen on college campuses throughout the country.   When you think about it, this seems like a natural outcome of all the pressure on students today.   Sometimes before they even start high school, they are worrying about getting into the college of their choice.   Once they get there, the pressure only increases on getting good grades, negotiating social situations, and pursuing extra-curricular activities that will help land them a good job or admission to graduate school when they graduate.

In an article in Penn State's Daily Collegian, some students reported that the place they went to for help with anxiety was their network of friends.   We all know that a supportive network of family and friends can help tremendously, but sometimes that's not enough.   A clinical social worker at Penn said that out of the 500 or so students they see clinically, about 20% are diagnosed with an ongoing anxiety disorder.

Some students enter college already on medication and under care of a psychiatrist, but others are first diagnosed with a mental illness after arriving.   This means they often have to drop out for a semester, a year, or for good.   We often have such college students show up at our support group meetings as they try to get their lives back together and return to school.   It is never easy, but support from their families and the schools they attend help make it possible.