- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When he was a child, Marc Summers would spend hours
obsessively cleaning his room, hanging his clothes at precise intervals
in the closet. A mother's dream? More a nightmare: Summers was medically
ill, with obsessive-compulsive disorder. On Tuesday the cable talk-show
host helped the National Institute of Mental health (NIMH) launch an education
campaign about anxiety disorders, which include obsessive-compulsive disorder.
``When I was a kid, I thought that if I did not clean and organize things
perfectly, something bad would happen to my parents,'' Summers told a news
conference. ``I was so caught up in the rituals, I didn't even realize
I had a problem.'' Summers was not treated until he was an adult. As a
television performer, he would spend hours showering and cleaning up. Yet
medication quickly helped him. The NIMH said it was launching the campaign
to educate the ignorant and to stop people from trivializing the problems.
``Many of the 23 million Americans with anxiety disorders continue to suffer
because of stigma and the widespread lack of understanding that these are
brain disorders, as responsive to treatment as other medical disorders,''
Dr. Steven Hyman, director of the NIMH, told the news conference. ``Science
destigmatizes. Once you know that thoughts and emotional disorders are
parts of the brain, you start to realize that this is a medical disorder.''
Outside influences are important, Hyman said, but that does not make anxiety
disorders any less a medical problem. ``Our experience and not just genes
plays a role in many, many medical conditions,'' he said -- for example,
heart disease. Hyman said more research was needed. ``Our hope is that
knowledge of brain dysfunction will lead to the development of highly targeted
treatments that will greatly improve the lives of people with severe anxiety
disorders,'' Hyman said. The NIMH's estimate of the prevalence of anxiety
disorders means one in 10 Americans has one of some kind, from obsessive-compulsive
disorder (OCD) to panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias
and generalized anxiety disorder. About 2 percent of the population may
suffer from OCD -- with its need to perform repetitive tasks, such as handwashing,
or rituals, such as counting -- in any given year. ``Tormented by panic
attacks, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares or countless frightening
physical symptoms, people with anxiety disorders are heavy utilizers of
emergency rooms and other medical services,'' the NIMH said in a statement.
It said anxiety disorders cost the country more than $46 billion in 1990.
Many sufferers also are alcoholics, are depressed or abuse drugs. But because
of the stigma surrounding such disorders, many do not seek treatment. The
NIMH said it had set up a Web page at www.nimh.nih.gov/anxiety as well
as toll-free telephone lines, public service announcements, articles and
continuing education courses for health professionals.