Mental Health

The History of Anxiety Disorders

history of anxiety disorders Posted On
Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

Which physicians identified the most common anxiety disorders?

This is part one of a nine-part series that will cover the physicians who charted the most common mental illnesses. A little-discussed topic that is nevertheless very interesting.

The History of Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobia, Agoraphobia, Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Disorder

Who First Described Anxiety?

history of anxiety disorders
George Beard

In 1869, George Miller Beard, a young American doctor, first described neurasthenia, or nerve weakness, a condition he had diagnosed in thirty patients.

In 1881, Dr. Beard published the book American Nervousness.
Beard discusses the various causes of this nervousness in this book. Today we know the nervousness that Beard describes under the names stress and anxiety. Symptoms included: general malaise, neuralgic pains, hysteria, hypochondria, up to symptoms of anxiety and chronic depression.

Who First Described Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

George Miller Beard‘s neurasthenia was a very broad concept. Its significance has evolved somewhat over time until its inclusion as a diagnostic concept in the Tenth Revised Edition of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10), separating it from the diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder or GAD.

However, Dr. Beard, in describing neurasthenia, uses the term pantaphobia or “fear of everything / morbid fear / general anxiety” as one of its many manifestations.

Édouard Brissaud
Édouard Brissaud

In 1899, Edouard Brissaud, neurologist and student of Jean-Martin Charots, identified “pure paroxystic fear” and specified that this condition can sometimes evolve into agoraphobia.

Who First Described Agoraphobia?

Carl Westphal
Carl Westphal

The term agoraphobia or “fear of the marketplace” was first used in 1871 by the German neurologist Carl Westphal to describe the fear of open spaces. He diagnosed this condition in three male patients who showed symptoms of anxiety when visiting certain public areas of the city.

Who First Described specific Phobia?


The first description of specific phobia is much older, around 450 B.C. The Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates, father of medicine, described in one of his works called “The Seventh Book of the Epidemics”, a condition from which a certain Nicanor suffered. Whenever Nicanor went out for a night and heard the music from the flute players, he was terrified. Hippocrates described: When the flute player started to play, the music made him so anxious that he could not stand the affliction. However, this only occurred at night, it did not bother him during the day.”

Aulus Celsus
Aulus Celsus

Note, Hippocrates defined the term phobia but did not name it. About 500 years later, around the 1st century AD, we find the term hydrophobia (fear of water) for the first time in “De Medicina”, a work by the Roman encyclopedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus.

Who First Described Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Disorder?

Isaac Meyer Marks
Isaac Meyer Marks

Social phobia, in turn, was only recently described. In 1969, British psychiatrist Isaac Marks created a separate category for social phobia from the general phobias in his book Fears and Phobias.

Later still, in 1985, Michael Liebowitz, a psychiatrist, and Richard Heimberg, a clinical psychologist, began a study on social anxiety disorder. Before this, social anxiety disorder was considered a “neglected” anxiety disorder due to the lack of studies on the subject.

Michael Liebowitz
Michael Liebowitz

Dr. Liebowitz designed the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS), a 24-question self-assessment scale used to assess how social anxiety plays a role in the patient’s life.







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