AnxietyBC's President's Address

ANXIETY DISORDERS ASSOCIATION OF CANADA CONFERENCE

APRIL 22 - 24, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC

OPENING REMARKS BY SHELLY JONES

              On behalf of AnxietyBC I would like to welcome everyone to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada 2010 Scientific and Academic Conference. 

              The Anxiety Disorders Association of BC (now known as AnxietyBC) became a reality in 1999 due to a small group of hard working and tenacious individuals.  Drs. Peter McLean and Maureen Whittal, from the UBC Anxiety Disorders Unit, formed AnxietyBC.  At that time, people with anxiety and their family members were experiencing difficulty accessing information as well as treatment resources. It was decided that the needs of people troubled by anxiety symptoms would be better served if awareness of anxiety increased in the larger population.  These two psychologists recruited several people with broad expertise and an interest in anxiety to form AnxietyBC.

              It is an honor for me to serve in the capacity of President of the Board, but Iam equally proud of having overcome an anxiety disorder.  Prior to being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and receiving treatment, it was a struggle for me to make a telephone call, and it would have been out of the question for me to appear before you today.

              I consider myself very lucky to have had a GP who recognized that I was struggling with anxiety and referred me to the UBC Anxiety Disorders Unit.   After a wait of a few months I was called in for an assessment and received the diagnosis of G.A.D.   Again, I was fortunate that a group for G.A.D. was beginning shortly, and in late 2004 I began a 15 week treatment program using cognitive behavioural therapy. 

At the conclusion of treatment I asked whether there were any volunteer opportunities available.  It was then that I learned of AnxietyBC, and discovered that they were looking for persons to peer-lead groups of others suffering from panic disorder.  In 2005 I co-lead my first group, and since then have co-led four other groups.   Research has shown that peer modeling is one of the most effective ways by which individuals can acquire new skills.   

              As a leader, I have been inspired by the changes I have seen in group members. I have also come to realize that teaching anxiety management skills to others has allowed me to keep my own anxiety in check.  By demonstrating self-management skills to them I am reminded of what I must do.  In short, everyone benefits:  the participants, the group leaders, and the health care system.  I mention the health care system because individuals with panic disorder also generate significant economic costs, and peer-lead groups are a very cost-effective way to help them before they become more severe and begin to access the health care system much more frequently, by, for example, showing up at doctors' offices or even hospital emergency rooms with unexplained symptoms, frequently those similar to a heart attack.

In a best case scenario, the panic disorder groups would be ongoing and numerous.  Many of those able to overcome their anxiety issues through treatment, such as myself, would be willing to volunteer as peer-leaders, allowing the number of groups to expand and more people to be helped.  Sadly, AnxietyBC has not been able to offer these groups for the past two years due to a lack of funding.

As I said at the outset, I was fortunate.  Although effective treatments for anxiety disorders have been established, evidence-based interventions are received by only a minority of individuals who seek treatment, while many others do not have access to appropriate treatment resources. Unfortunately, many practitioners do not have the appropriate training to deliver evidence-based treatments for the successful management of anxiety disorders. Moreover, evidence-based programs for anxiety disorders are not widely available.

Given these facts, it is astounding to me that the UBC Anxiety Disorders Clinic, where I received my diagnosis and treatment in 2004, was closed by Vancouver Coastal Health approximately one year ago.  The clinic was a tertiary service that provided assessments and treatment province-wide. In their last year of operation the ADC recorded over 3000 patient visits. Most of these visits were one-hour therapy appointments (group or individual) with the remainder, medication consultations or checks.

In addition to providing high quality evidence-based treatment, the staff members of the ADC were heavily involved in training and research. A number of federally and provincially funded research studies were carried out in the clinic. A number of these research projects involved investigations of novel treatments, which meant that the people with anxiety disorders were getting cutting edge treatment. ADC staff were also centrally involved in training and teaching of CBT, both to pre-doctoral interns, post-doctoral fellows and psychology graduate students. With the closure of the ADC there is no longer an internship program in CBT in Vancouver. 

            While we remain hopeful that things will change, AnxietyBC in the meantime has done as much as we can within our limited funding to advance our goals of increasing awareness, promoting education and improving access to programs that work.   We have developed a website which has been recognized throughout the world by both consumers and professionals, and provides substantial information and practical self-help strategies that can be used by those affected by anxiety.  We have within the past month added a section on CBT, and this too is being widely viewed and we have received much positive feedback.   Interestingly enough, our website statistics indicate that the most frequent visitors are the B.C. government and the U.S military.

We have embarked on a continuing program to develop educational DVDs on both childhood and adult anxiety.  Two DVDs have been completed:  the first on separation anxiety in children, and the second on panic disorder in adults.  On Saturday, the two finished DVDs will be screened during the lunch break, with Dr. Michael Catchpole providing some comments.  The third DVD is in production and will be on Social Anxiety in older children and teens.  Our goal is to develop a library of DVDs on all anxiety disorders affecting both adults and childen.  The DVDs are being widely distributed throughout British Columbia, through child and youth and other government agencies, libraries, hospitals and the like. 

Over the years AnxietyBC has offered several parent information nights throughout the province to assist parents with anxious children, and has developed an in-depth one day parenting workshop that is now being offered.  These have been well received and, funding permitting, will be continued.

            It is obvious, however, that much more remains to be done and that not-for-profit organizations such as AnxietyBC and ADAC can only do so much.  What will be required is leadership, policy direction and support from all levels of government, to ensure access to a high standard of care for individuals with anxiety disorders, irrespective of their place of residence.  I mentioned earlier that I considered myself very "lucky" to have received treatment for my anxiety disorder; I look forward to the day when "luck" will play no part at all and everyone in need will have access to evidence-based treatment.

 

Shelly Jones,

President - AnxietyBC