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.