Poor Mothers Often Misdiagnosed with Anxiety Disorder

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Researchers from Rutgers University have published the findings from a study in the journal Child and Adolescent Social Work that claims that it is not uncommon for poor mothers to be diagnosed as having generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)—not on account of them actually having the disorder, but because they are living in poverty conditions.

The study, entitled, "Is it Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Poverty? An Examination of Poor Mothers and Their Children," claims that that although stress levels occurring over extended periods of time can indeed create mental disordersin any group, there is simply no evidence supporting GAD in poor mothers is actually being diagosed because it is actually present.

These findings serve as confirmation of prior findings that there is a correlation between being a mother living in poverty and the odds of being classified or diagnosed as having GAD. The Rutgers team however is concluding that the evidence to support these diagnoses as accurate is lacking; and that if these women are struggling with anxiety, it is because of external pressures and not internal—and pre-existing—problems.

"The distinction is important because there are different ways to treat the problem," commented the researchers . "While supportive therapy and parent skills-training are often helpful, sometimes the most appropriate intervention is financial aid and concrete services."

In other words the evidence could not support a connection between the anxiety they were experiencing and the parental stress they were experiencing, despite poorer mothers being shackled with greater odds of being diagnosed with GAD.

In making any GAD diagnosis, clinicians refer to the symptoms set out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual does not apply context—such as whether or not a person is rich or poor.

"Our findings suggest that anxiety in poor mothers is usually not a psychiatric problem but a reaction to severe environmental deficits," continued the research team. "Thus, assessment should include careful attention to contextual factors and environmental deficits as playing a role in the presentation of symptoms. Labeling an individual with a diagnosis, especially if it is inaccurate, has a serious social stigma."