Katja Beesdo-Baum is chair of Behavioral Epidemiology at the Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy and Director of the Center for Epidemiological and Longitudinal Studies and the Center for Preventive Intervention Studies at the Technische Universtität Dresden, Germany. Her research focuses on the causal-analytic epidemiology of anxiety disorders and related condition across the life span.
Epidemiological studies consistently evidence that anxiety disorders are frequent and early emerging conditions, with the core incidence period being in childhood and adolescence. Although anxiety disorders may remit spontaneously, many anxiety cases continue to show anxiety symptomatology into adulthood. Further, anxiety disorders have been shown to be a potent risk factor for the onset of other mental disorders such as mood and substance use disorders. This emphasizes the importance of recognizing and treating anxiety disorders early in life to alleviate individual and societal burden resulting from anxiety and possibly to prevent a cascade of subsequent psychopathology. The prevention of anxiety disorders themselves depends on identifying and targeting modifiable risk factors. Various familial risk factors such as parental anxiety disorders and adverse parental rearing styles (e.g. overprotection) have been identified as have various environmental factors such as early adversity (e.g. separation from parents). Behavioral inhibition, a consistent restraint in response to both social and nonsocial situations, has been reliably seen as temperamental antecedent of various forms of anxiety disorders. Protective factors such as positive coping expectations may contribute to resiliency. The current understanding and evidence from epidemiological studies will be presented followed by conclusions for intervention programs to prevent the onset of anxiety and secondary complications.