When a person is faced with a stressful situation, the body’s reaction is to become anxious. In some cases, that reaction is severe, causing individuals to become unable to move beyond the fear and anxiety they feel for long periods of time. Often, this is indicative of an anxiety disorder. There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders. The most common of these disorders includes general anxiety disorder, clinical anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, individual phobias, and agoraphobia.
More than 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States have an anxiety disorder. While the cause of anxiety disorders is unknown, most researchers and scientists believe that a combination of genetics and traumatic or triggering events is the most likely cause for the development of an anxiety disorder.
With more than 18 percent of the adult population in the nation suffering from an anxiety disorder, everyone is likely to know someone who has one of these conditions. Throughout history, politicians, writers, and artists have suffered from a variety of anxiety disorders. Many celebrities today have started to discuss their own experiences with these conditions, bringing exposure to the disorders and helping others to find ways to deal with the symptoms and causes. Here is a closer look at ten famous people with anxiety disorders and the impact that the disorders have had on their lives.
10. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln is famously depicted as somber and serious in photographs and descriptions of him throughout history books and historical accounts. Lincoln endured many traumatic events throughout his life, marked by the repeated loss of those close to him. As a young child, he lost his mother, and when he was only 18, he lost his beloved older sister. Lincoln would also lose ten of his twelve children to death, and he often felt inadequate because of a lack of social upbringing and education. These losses and his own feelings of inadequacy manifested in deep anxiety throughout his life and his presidency. Historians and psychiatric researchers typically agree that Lincoln must have suffered from severe generalized anxiety disorders, based on his letters and journals. Lincoln’s diagnosis would not have existed at the time, and he would have had to have found ways to deal with the stress and anxiety he felt as he managed the challenges of his presidency.
9. Emily Dickinson
It can be difficult to diagnose a psychological condition after someone’s death, particularly for historical figures that lived prior to the twentieth century. Emily Dickinson, born in 1830, is one of America’s most beloved literary figures, and a world famous poetess. Almost as well known as her poetry, however, is Emily Dickinson’s reclusive nature. Through letters and historical records, experts and researchers have determined that Emily Dickinson began to limit her interaction with other people to her family members after leaving Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Although Emily Dickinson conversed with journalists, other writers, and editors during the time that she lived, she limited the majority of her interaction to letter writing, refusing to meet most of them in person. As she grew older, her own fear of death also seemed to contribute to her increasing lack of interaction with others. Most experts agree that Dickinson suffered from some type of an anxiety disorder, possibly agoraphobia.
8. Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh has been an interesting case study for psychiatric students throughout the world. There are a number of theories about the extent of van Gogh’s mental health disorders, and most expert agree that the famous artist suffered from a combination of a number of physical and psychiatric diseases. In addition to bipolar disorder and epilepsy, experts often agree that van Gogh suffered from anxiety disorders, and his stay in an asylum in the late nineteenth century noted this as one of van Gogh’s conditions. Additionally, historians also note the documentation of his anxiety in his own letters, where he notes that he has “fits of anxiety” and “attacks” of melancholy. Van Gogh also excessively drank liquor, especially absinthe, and this is possibly a cause of an increase in the severity of his anxiety and other disorders. He is also used in genetic studies and research because of the possible suicide of his younger brother and one of his sister’s schizophrenic diagnosis. Van Gogh ultimately committed suicide in his thirties.
7. Kim Basinger
Kim Basinger’s struggle with anxiety disorders began when she was a child. Basinger suffers from social anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. The condition was so severe when she was a child that her parents thought it was possible that she had autism. She was tested for autism, along with many other psychiatric disorders, but her condition was not diagnosed. Basinger has been very public about her experiences with anxiety disorders, and she appeared in the documentary “Panic: A Film about Coping” produced HBO, hoping to raise awareness for the spectrum of these disorders. To treat her condition, Basinger turned to psychotherapeutic methods. Although she feels the condition has improved, she still notes that she has some instances of panic.
6. Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand is known throughout Hollywood and the music industry for being very reclusive. She is not often seen in public, and, in fact, she would not perform publicly for nearly 30 years out of her career. This 30-year hiatus from public appearances, aside from those for charity, was the result of what happened at a concert that Streisand gave in Central Park in New York City. At the concert, Streisand forgot the lyrics to the song she was singing, and she developed an intense fear of performing in public again and having the same thing happen. Streisand was able to work through the panic attacks and anxiety disorder symptoms to begin to perform again publicly. The actress/singer has reported that medication was a part of the treatment for her symptoms.
5. Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is often regarded as one of the most creative and prolific musical artists and songwriters of all time. Most experts agree that Wilson’s battles with anxiety and other mental health disorders likely were triggered by his childhood experiences with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother. As a founder of the Beach Boys, he is credited as the creative driving force behind the band’s success, but his time in the group was marred by periods of depression and anxiety, resulting in his refusal to tour or perform with the group. During the highest points of his fame, Wilson self-medicated his conditions with illegal drugs. Since then, Wilson has found a way to deal with his condition, publishing an autobiography and beginning to perform publicly again. It has been reported that his treatment included the controversial 24-hour therapy treatment administered by now unlicensed clinical psychologist Eugene Landy.
4. Donny Osmond
For many people with an anxiety disorder, the constant presence of anxiousness about stressful triggers is an almost impossible hurdle to get over. In Donny Osmond’s cases, that anxiety resulted in severe panic attacks that would send him to the corner of the room, curled up into the fetal position and unable to handle any situation. For Osmond, that stress was triggered by his own celebrity. Osmond worried constantly that he would not be successful in show business, letting not just himself down but also negatively affecting his family and their individual careers. Osmond sought professional mental health professionals and his treatment includes medication to control and fight the symptoms of the anxiety and panic attacks. After battling anxiety disorder and working to keep it under control, Osmond discussed his struggle in a memoir and on the Dr. Phil television show.
3. Paula Deen
Some anxiety disorders manifest in a person’s inability to even leave their own homes to go about living day-to-day, seriously impeding everything from personal relationships to careers. This was the case for Paula Deen, the celebrity Southern chef, who developed an anxiety disorder after the loss of her parents. After both of Deen’s parents passed away before she was in her mid-twenties, she developed an intense fear of dying, leading to an acute condition of agoraphobia. Agoraphobia occurs when a person feels that situations are dangerous, or sometimes highly uncomfortable. Deen began to have panic attacks from her own fear of death, and she would often not leave her own home for weeks at a time. To overcome this anxiety, Deen relied on religious prayer and other spiritual methods.
2. Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg, a famous actress, comedienne, and talk show host, needs to travel. For Goldberg, this was complicated for many years because of her deep fear of flying. This type of fear is a phobia, one specific type of anxiety disorder, often also called aerophobia. Often, individuals who suffer from a phobia undergo cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy. Before recent treatment, Goldberg would travel only by bus, train, or car in order to get from one end of the country to the other. Her fear of flying was the result of witnessing a mid-air collision between two planes more than 30 years ago. Goldberg’s own treatment was a type of exposure therapy in which she enrolled in a flying without fear program.
1. Howie Mandel
In 2009, Howie Mandel revealed to the public that he suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), one type of anxiety disorder. Mandel’s condition manifests itself in a deep fear of germs. Because he constantly travels, Mandel keeps a black light and a magnifying glass with him in order to inspect all of his hotel rooms for bedbugs and germs that could be around the room or on the bed. He will also only travel on a private plane because he fears the germs on commercial flights. Individuals with OCD become increasingly obsessed with rituals and are unable to overcome fears of the spread of germs, in spite of acute knowledge of the irrationality of their fears. Mandel manages his own condition with medication and psychotherapy.
Plus … Tony Soprano
In the television show The Sopranos, Tony Soprano suffers from several different types of anxiety disorders that manifest in debilitating panic attacks. The character undergoes psychiatric care for 8 ½ years, taking medication as part of the treatment, but is unable to control the attacks and other effects of PTSD and stress anxiety disorder. He ends up ending his treatment with his psychiatrist, and he begins to treat his condition through self-help programs. It is a trend that many people are following for treatment of anxiety disorders.
Tony Soprano’s treatment on the television show is one of the latest trends in treatment for anxiety disorders. Other types of treatment often include medication, prescribed by a qualified physician or psychiatrist, psychotherapy, homeopathic care, and cognitive behavior therapies.