When Do Anxiety Disorders Begin?

Although everyone feels nervous at times, for some people anxiety spreads through their lives and starts causing them real problems. According to one study with over nine thousand participants, about 18 percent of people in the United States will struggle with an anxiety disorder in a given year.

Anxiety disorders can range from social phobia to obsessive-compulsive disorder, but they all have one thing in common: anxiety spirals out of control to the point that it can become downright disabling.

However, there are also important differences between anxiety disorders, and some new research is suggesting that one of these differences might be age of onset. In a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from Erasmus Medical Center’s Sophia Children’s Hospital in Rotterdam have shown that different anxiety disorders tend to begin at different stages in life.

Some disorders are most likely to show up before 15 years of age. These include:

  • Social phobia
  • Specific phobia (claustrophobia, fear of heights, fear of spiders, etc.)
  • Separation anxiety disorder

Other disorders, meanwhile, show up between 21 and 35 years of age in average. Some of these are:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia

The study also found that anxiety disorders start at around the same time for men and women and that the age of onset for anxiety disorders tends to be lower in more developed countries.

Overall, the research showed that anxiety disorders in general are most likely to show up in adolescence and young adulthood – the average age of onset across all anxiety disorders was about 21.

That said, certain disorders tend to show up earlier than others. For example, specific phobias are most likely to develop before mid adolescence while agoraphobia typically appears in young adulthood.

Knowing when anxiety disorders are more likely to begin may lead to more effective interventions targeting specific age groups. More than half of people living with anxiety disorders still go without treatment, so there’s definitely room for improvement here!

Image: FreeImages.com/Joana Croft