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Is GAD A Serious Mental Illness?

Is GAD A Serious Mental Illness?

Yes; generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a serious mental illness that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is characterized by “chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience.” While experiencing bouts of anxiety is natural, experiencing persistent and debilitating anxiety may be an indication that something is awry. An adolescent that struggles with GAD will likely experience a large percentage of his or her waking hours excessively worrying about something, even when there is no specific threat present.

Signs and Symptoms

There are a variety of common signs and symptoms associated with GAD. The signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can present in any combination with varying levels of severity. The Mayo Clinic provides examples, some of which include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Overwhelming worry and fear
  • Isolation 
  • Agitation
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dysphoria
  • Low self-esteem/ low self-worth
  • Tension
  • Anxiety 
  • Worry/ Fear

The diagnostic criterion provided in the DSM-5 for GAD is somewhat different for adults and children. An adult is diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder when at least three of the above symptoms persist for a minimum of six months. In younger people, however, only one symptom is needed for diagnosis, provided it has been exhibited regularly spanning over a period of six months. Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States has been said to affect nearly eight percent of teenagers in America.

Cause and Risk Factors

The cause of generalized anxiety disorder is likely due to a combination of biological, environmental, and psychological factors, although the precise scientific reason for its development remains unknown. Winchester Hospital has identified several known risk factors that can increase one’s susceptibility to GAD, including:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Medical conditions, as people with chronic illness, have a greater risk of GAD
  • Substance abuse
  • History of stressful life events (e.g., traumatic event, childhood abuse or neglect, divorce, etc.)

It is not uncommon for other anxiety disorders to co-occur in a young person with generalized anxiety disorder. To conclusively understand the exact cause of GAD, additional research is required. 

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, in the long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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