Panic disorder
If a person suspects that he / she or a loved one is suffering from panic disorder, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and call in the help of a professional as soon as possible.


What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is diagnosed when repeated panic attacks, which have no prominent triggers, occur. Panic attacks appear out of the blue and are not associated with any clear danger signs such as social situations or elements of an experienced trauma.

Did you know?
According to a international study is the average age at which panic disorder begins 32 years. It was also found that 80,4% of people with lifelong panic disorder also have a lifelong other (comorbid) psychological disorder.


What are the symptoms of panic disorder?

The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), accepted worldwide as the most authoritative source:

Note that an official diagnosis may only be made by a qualified person.
  1. repeated, unexpected panic attacks (see description of panic attacks);
  2. at least one of the attacks was followed by (at least) one month of one or both of the following:
    1. a continuing concern about panic attacks or their consequences (eg, loss of control, heart attack, "going crazy"); and / or
    2. a significant change in behavior related to the panic attacks (eg to avoid exercise or strange places);
  3. the disorder is not related to the physical effect of a drug or other medical condition; and
  4. the disorder is not better explained by another psychological condition.


Treatment of panic disorder

  1. Why is it necessary to treat panic disorder?
    Panic disorder can have a very limiting effect on one's quality of life and / or functioning and is usually not something that goes away or improves on its own. Therefore, it is better to call for professional help as soon as possible.
  2. How is panic disorder treated?
    Panic disorder can have a very limiting effect on one's quality of life and / or functioning and is usually not something that goes away or improves on its own. Therefore, it is better to call for professional help as soon as possible.
    1. Medical research
      A full medical examination (which may include blood tests) by a general practitioner is needed to determine if the panic attack / symptoms are related to any medical conditions.
    2. Psychological examination and therapy
      If there is no medical cause for the symptoms or if the symptoms occur in excess in relation to the medical condition, the next step will be to make an appointment with a registered psychologist. During the first session, the symptoms will be discussed in detail and further recommendations will be made. Psychotherapy is usually an effective way to treat panic disorder in the long run.
    3. Medication
      Often medication is needed, and for that the psychologist can refer the person to a psychiatrist, who can then do a complete assessment and recommend and prescribe appropriate medication (if necessary).
    4. Support groups
      Support groups are always very valuable as they give one the opportunity to learn from others who share similar experiences and challenges. Group members also provide support to each other and the feeling that there are other people who understand what one is going through. Unfortunately, there is not always an active group in one's environment. Online searches can help determine what is available. More information can be found on the SADAG website found.
If there is no support group in your area, this may give you an opportunity to start your own group!


How can I support someone with panic disorder?

  1. Encourage the person to seek professional help;
  2. If the person becomes discouraged, encourage them to discuss their experience with their physician psychologist and stick to their treatment plan;
  3. Encourage healthy lifestyle choices, e.g. regular physical exercise, enough sleep, a balanced diet and healthy relaxation; and
  4. Learn and apply stress management techniques; and
  5. Stick to your treatment plan.
  6. Take a good look at yourself, as it can be exhausting to fulfill the support role. However, it is very important for the diagnosed person to take responsibility for their own symptoms and treatment.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?