FSU Researchers Working On New Program To Reduce Anxiety Among Students and Veterans

Researchers at Florida State University have a new computer program that may be the key to reducing both anxiety and the risk of suicide according to a recent study performed by the American Psychological Association.

The new Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment (CAST) program was designed and is being thoroughly tested by Dr. Brad Schmidt, who is Florida State University’s director of the Anxiety and Behavior Clinic.

Teaming up with Dr. Schmidt, is Aaron Norr, an FSU grad student majoring in clinical psychology. Norr aids Dr. Schmidt in administering the program’s treatments in the form of videos, a specially designed questionnaire that will help to pinpoint where some of the subject’s anxiety comes from as well as other forms of interactive media.

Each treatment takes roughly 45 minutes to complete and is broken up into two parts. The first part of the CAST is focused on anxiety, symptoms of anxiety and information to aid the subject in coping with the ill effects. The second part of the treatment is centered around exercises that will mimic the feelings of anxiety, such as hyperventilation therapy.

Norr says of the CAST’s means of exposing subjects to anxiety-like symptoms, “When you hyperventilate it causes a lot of bodily sensations that are analogous to those that you experience when you feel really anxious. It’s just to kind of have people repeatedly go through that…so when they feel [those sensations] when they’re anxious its not as scary.”

Dr. Schmidt has performed extensive research on the connection between anxiety levels and incidents of suicide, which has produced findings indicating the strong connection between the two. He also notes that anxiety is a frequently discounted factor in suicides with the focus often geared more towards people experiencing depression or other psychological issues.

“We really think that the best way of delivering these kinds of things is more on a preventive basis, for people who maybe going into stressful situations, to prevent the kind of vicious cycle that can sometimes occur when people start to develop depression and anxiety and adverse stress reactions,” states Dr. Schmidt.

The CAST program is still in the early days with more testing on the books in the near future, but positive results are being seen according to Dr. Schmidt and Norr. He says of the subjects, who are screened for anxiety and mood disorders, “Even within that sample that already had pre-existing problems, we saw a fair amount of benefit.”

Norr says, “It’s really exciting that something this quick and easy could potentially have very large benefits for a lot of people.”

Dr. Schmidt’s program gained the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense and has received a substantial grant from the Military Suicide Research Consortium. The relationship formed between the doctor and the U.S. Department of Defense is quite a match as anxiety and suicide are both prevalent in the military community with veterans and active duty members alike.

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