Sydney, Australia: Since I was about 13 years old, I’ve been crippled by (not-so-obvious) anxiety. The truth is, I never thought I’d actually ever tell anyone about it. To this day, I’m not even sure some of my closest school friends knew I was suffering from anxiety – how could they when I didn’t know how to explain it myself? It comes in swings, some years will pass and I’ll have it managed, under control. Other years, it will bubble over like boiling water and I’ll desperately want to be someone else. It’s not because the world has tipped over sideways or that I’m an ungrateful millennial, it’s just a part of me, and also a part of over 2 million Australians, or nearly 15 percent of the adult population.
In 2018, anxiety and mental health are front and centre alongside climate change and the Kardashians. It’s a topic that’s continually brought up and discussed in media and yet it’s still a difficult subject to talk about. Sometimes my only method of coping is to just sit down with a f*cking cup of tea or lay on the floor and actually, I don’t think I’m alone. Anxiety is one of the most widespread illnesses in the world, being the most common mental health condition in Australia.
According to Beyond Blue, one in three women and one in five men (men are more reluctant to go to the doctor, so may report it less), will experience a period of crippling anxiety at some point.
“Globally, the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015. Nearly that number again suffers from a range of anxiety disorders. Since many people experience both conditions simultaneously (comorbidity), it is inappropriate to simply add these two figures together to arrive at a total for common mental disorders. The consequences of these disorders in terms of lost health are huge.” – ‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders 2017′, World Health Organisation
Anxiety can be a confusing term. I’m not talking about the feeling of stress or feeling pressure, I’m talking about the sheer panic of impending doom for no obvious reason, consistently haunting your mind and body over a period of significant time. It can feel like someone has scrambled your brain, you’re about to die and a dark cloud hangs over you, all at the same time, which can be immobilising. There can be both physical symptoms (upset stomach, shaking, pounding heart, heavy breathing), alongside physiological symptoms (see below).
It can be incredibly difficult to recognise in people as each individual’s anxiety is triggered differently and many people hide it well. Mental health charity SANE Australia describes common anxiety disorders as:
- persistent, excessive or unrealistic worries (generalised anxiety disorder)
- compulsions and obsessions which they can’t control (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- intense excessive worry about social situations (social anxiety disorder)
- panic attacks (panic disorder)
- an intense, irrational fear of everyday objects and situations (phobia).
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If you think you might be suffering from anxiety, Beyond Blue has a checklist here that may help to determine if you are afflicted with it.
How did we get here?
Anxiety, side by side with depression, has been increasing at an alarming rate particularly amongst teens over the past decade according to multiple reports. TIME published a piece in 2016, ‘Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright‘, highlighting the anxiety that teens face across all demographics, “They are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity.”
It’s not just the modern day economic, cultural and political changes that have perhaps moulded anxiety and mental health issues, technology is also an integral factor. Social media addiction is commonly cited as a reason for rising anxiety and depression stats, increasing levels of social exclusion and self-consciousness. There is a heavy amount of neuroscience research into the subject, see more here.
Australia is clearly drowning in anxiety and there are multiple issues at play that need addressing. I’m not a public health expert but mental health clearly needs to be addressed as a higher priority by the federal government. It is in the country’s best economic and social interest to invest in Australians mental wealth. There should also be a higher focus on education, a wider range of treatments and management.
Investment from the government will also trickle down into education at all levels, introducing essential programmes on mental health into schools to tackle anxiety from a young age. This, in turn, will create a better understanding and management at older ages, hopefully alleviating the rates of panic disorders, anxiety and depression. This may also help break the stigma of mental health disorders, especially for males.
If you or anyone you know needs individual help with any mental health issues, seek help immediately from a GP, learn more here or contact the following organisations: