About Anxiety

How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?

When you have anxiety, it's easy to feel like others don't understand what you're going through. Anxiety itself can make you feel as though you're suffering from symptoms, worries, and concerns that are not only pronounced - they also feel completely natural.

But despite how personal this anxiety is to you, the truth is that anxiety disorders are surprisingly common. In fact, many experts claim that anxiety is actually the most common mental health disorder in the United States and abroad, and that number only includes those that have a diagnosable anxiety condition.

Anxiety Disorder Statistics and Prevalence

Every country has its own unique mental health statistics, but for the purposes of this article, we're going to use the statistics in the United States because those statistics are more readily available.

Remember, there is more than one anxiety disorder - from generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder and more.

Final Note About Anxiety Statistics

It's also important to mention that these statistics only refer to those with a diagnosable disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnose mental health issues.

It's possible to suffer from anxiety or panic attacks but not qualify for a diagnosis. It's also possible to qualify for a diagnosis but be unaware that your anxiety is considered severe enough. It's also possible that you don't realize you have anxiety at all. This is especially common with panic attacks, as those that do not know much about anxiety disorders often believe that they have a health problem.

So while the following statistics are interesting, they shouldn't define your anxiety. If you feel that you have anxiety, you should seek treatment. It doesn't matter how severe it is or whether or not you qualify for a diagnosis.

Examining the Statistics on Anxiety

The following are the current statistics on most anxiety disorders. These statistics refer to how common they are in the population, as well as some additional information.

How Common Are All Anxiety Disorders?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are currently 40,000,000 people in the United States living with an anxiety disorder, or approximately 18% of the population. Again, this number only refers to those currently living with a diagnosable anxiety disorder - not those living with anxiety that need help but don't qualify for a diagnosis, or those that lived with anxiety for years but have since cured it. If those were included, the number could be as much as double if not more.

How Common is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is the anxiety disorder that most people think of when they think about anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder currently affects roughly 3% of the population, but that number is low because there are many people living with anxiety that resembles GAD that can manage it on a day to day basis well enough not to qualify for the disorder. Approximately 1% of the population suffers from GAD considered to be "severe." Anywhere from 7 to 10% of the United States will experience GAD at some point in their life.

Anxiety is a treatable condition, and generalized anxiety disorder patients often respond well to therapies. Unfortunately, only 52% of those with GAD seek out treatment, and only 22.2% of those with GAD are receiving treatment that is clinically adequate. Far too many people seek out treatments that don't work, or seek out nothing at all.

How Common is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is underdiagnosed, and there's reason to believe that the statistics on panic disorder are much higher than currently reported by the NIMH. But panic disorder is still reported to affect roughly the same amount of people as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, at about 6 million representing 2.7% of the population.

44% of those cases are considered severe. Anywhere from 6% to 9% of the population will experience panic disorder at some point in their life, and far more will have panic attacks but not qualify for the disorder. 65% of those with panic disorder are currently in treatment, and only about half of those people are receiving minimally adequate treatment.

Many of those with panic disorder also develop agoraphobia. Agoraphobia presents itself in roughly 25% of those with panic disorder, or about 0.8% of the population overall. Only half of those with agoraphobia seek treatment, and very few seek any effective treatment (less than 21%).

How Common is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, may be an overly self-diagnosed, but underdiagnosed in the community. Many people can live with OCD without realizing it's a problem, and many others claim they're OCD because they have a few silly compulsions but they probably do not qualify for a disorder.

Obsessive compulsive disorder affects roughly 1% of the population at any given time, with more than half of the cases considered severe. 2.3% to 5% of the population will experience OCD at some point in their lives. It's not known whether or not enough people are seeking adequate treatment, but it's unlikely since obsessive compulsive disorder is the type of condition that often seems natural.

How Common is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is surprisingly common. 7.7 million people (about 3.5% of the population) experience PTSD in any given year, due to the high number of rapes and PTSD from those that worked in military settings. PTSD affects approximately 6.8% of the those in the United States in their lifetime. Only 58% seek treatment, and of those, only 44% receive any adequate treatment.

Social phobia is also a very common condition. It affects 12.1% of the population in a person's lifetime, and those numbers do not include those that simply feel shy. In any given year, 6.8% of the population experience social phobia, or about 15,000,000 people. Social phobia is rarely treated, with only 45.6% seeking treatment.

Perhaps most problematic is that only 38.2% of those with social phobia that seek treatment receive adequate treatment, so of those currently living with social phobia, only 17% (less than 1/5) is receiving some type of effective treatment or intervention.

How Common Are Specific Phobias?

There are also those living with more specific phobias, such as a fear of spiders or a fear of heights. Specific phobias are unique in that millions upon millions of people have phobias, but not many of these phobias are severe enough for a diagnosis. Still, about 19 million people qualify for a specific phobia or 8.7% of the population. Very few seek treatment (32%) and of those living with a specific phobia, only 12.8% receive adequate treatment.

Learning From the Anxiety Statistics

Anxiety is incredibly common, but it's not just the extremely high numbers that are relevant. It's also a shockingly low number of people that seek out treatment, and the even lower number of people that actually receive an effective treatment.

Less than half of those with anxiety (42%) ever seek treatment, and only 14% of those with anxiety disorder receive treatment that is best described as "minimally adequate." That means that of those with anxiety right now, 86% are either receiving no treatment or using one that doesn't work.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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