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by Abigail Van Buren

Help for Panic Disorder Is Just a Toll Free Call Away

DEAR ABBY: My heart went out to the woman who wrote about her panic disorder and inability to drive. However, I was even more troubled about her isolation and shame over having an illness -- panic disorder -- that is no more a sign of "weakness" than is diabetes, heart disease or any other ailment.

While I heartily echo your encouragement that she seek help from a mental health professional, and while her personal physician is an excellent place to start, please tell your readers about a wonderful service sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It's a 24-hour toll-free line: 1-800-647-2642, which provides free literature about panic disorder.

Too many people who need treatment are unable to seek professional help due to financial limitations, geographical restrictions and fear of being thought "crazy." Straightforward information not only can prove useful, it also can give sufferers the reassurance they may need to seek help. Although panic attacks are agonizing to experience, they are usually treatable -- and often by understanding them, relief can be gained.

You do people a world of good with your sound, sympathetic and commonsense advice, Abby. As a mental health professional for the past 20 years, I'm a huge fan and never miss your column. -- SYMPATHETIC TO PANIC SUFFERERS

DEAR SYMPATHETIC: I am pleased to publicize the National Institute of Mental Health toll-free number, because an estimated 24 million Americans suffer from one or another of the anxiety disorders. As you pointed out, panic disorders are treatable with education and medication. Thank you for making the effort to inform my readers.

DEAR ABBY: When my mother died in 1995 at the age of 83, she left behind five cartons of loose photographs that she had intended to sort and label. "Sometime when I have time," she always said. I couldn't identify half the people in the pictures, but I knew who could.

After the funeral and lunch at the small country church, I spread the photographs on two tabletops and invited the gathered relatives to dig through them to select those photos they wanted for themselves or others they know who were in them.

For more than three hours, the survivors marveled, laughed and reminisced about days gone by. My uncles and aunts identified the individuals in the frames, sought out the person to tell them the occasion and setting when the picture was taken, and then handed them the pictures.

Everyone left with a handful of precious memories. -- BILL B. FROM MINNESOTA

DEAR BILL B.: What a terrific idea. And what a clever theme for a holiday party when relatives gather to celebrate.

DEAR ABBY: I have read your column for many years, but this is the first time to write.

When my mother was getting old and in poor health, I would see friends of hers and they would say, "I would call your mother, but I'm afraid she might be sleeping or resting." Abby, that is not the way she wanted it to be.

Now that I am getting old, my greatest joy is for someone to visit or call me. Wake me up! I have plenty of time to sleep. Please call me any time of day or night -- early or late. Just call me. It would make my day. -- WAITING FOR A CALL IN TUCSON, ARIZ.

DEAR WAITING: I can think of few things as depressing as isolation. Stop waiting for your phone to ring and make some calls to others. You don't say how old you are, or the condition of your health, but if you're able to leave your dwelling, a wonderful way to meet people and stay involved is to volunteer your time for a worthwhile cause. Please consider it.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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