Anxiety: the (hidden) upcoming mental pandemic
Anxiety is currently the biggest mental health problem worldwide. The mental illness has even surpassed depression. Awareness regarding the issue is somehow very low profile, almost like it’s being neglected by the masses. The statistics are showing that mental illnesses in general are shockingly high, which anxiety being the ‘’high roller’’. Fact is that anxiety has become a global problem, both socially and economically.
What is anxiety?
‘’Anxiety is the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event. A certain level of anxiety helps us stay alert and aware, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, it feels far from normal; it can be completely crippling’’, according to Dr. Tanja Jovanovic, Ph.D.
The types of anxiety
- Panic disorder (panic attacks and excessive worrying)
- General anxiety disorder (uncontrollable worry about events and activities)
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (this disorder is related to a traumatic disorder such as war or a heavy car accident)
- Specific phobia (for example fear of flying or fear of blood)
The symptoms of anxiety
Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
What causes anxiety?
An important factor causing anxiety is genetically determined. Clinical genetic studies indicate that heritability estimates for anxiety disorders range from 30-60%. Many studies, past and present, have focused on identifying specific genetic factors that increase one’s risk for an anxiety disorder.
Concerning environmental factors within the family, parenting behavior can also impact risk for anxiety disorders. Parents who demonstrate high levels of control (versus granting child autonomy) while interacting with their children has been associated with the development of anxiety disorders. Parental modeling of anxious behaviors and parental rejection of the child has also been shown to relate to greater risk for anxiety potentially. Experiencing stressful life events or chronic stress is also related to the development of anxiety disorders. Stressful life events in childhood, including experiencing adversity, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, or parental loss or separation may increase the risk of experiencing an anxiety disorder later in life.
Experiencing a chronic medical condition or severe or frequent illness, can also increase the risk for anxiety disorders, as well as dealing with a significant illness of a family member or loved one.
Furthermore behavioral choices can also significantly impact risk, as excessive tobacco or caffeine use can increase anxiety, whereas regular exercise can decrease anxiety. Specific temperament and personality traits also may confer risk of having an anxiety disorder.
And not to be forgotten demographic factors also impact the cause of anxiety, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety.
Anxiety and public opinion
Among all mental diseases, the anxiety disorders, including panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), specific phobias, and separation anxiety disorder, are the most frequent. Because patients with anxiety disorders are mostly treated as outpatients, they probably receive less attention from clinical psychiatrists than patients with other disorders that require inpatient treatment but are less frequent, such as schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorders.
Anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder) is the most common mental illness, yet not prioritized by clinical psychiatrists as bipolar affective disorder an schizophrenia.
The hidden cost of anxiety
The financial damage of anxiety was estimated in 2004 at 41 billion Euros in the European Union. The work loss days for some anxiety disorders are higher than for common somatic disorders such as diabetes. In the European Union, anxiety disorders are responsible for a large proportion of overall burden of disease. Disability-adjusted life years lost (DALY) is a global measure of disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to illness, disability, or early death. The DALY which can be attributed to panic disorder is estimated less than the DALY of depression, dementia, and alcohol abuse, but more than the DALY for Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis.
Let’s breakdown the numbers
While depression thought the be the number one mental health issue of our time, anxiety has surpassed depression long ago. According to some sources 1 out of 13 people is suffering from an anxiety disorder. Other sources claim that 4% of the worldwide population, within the range of between 2.5% and 6.5% population per country. With India, China and the U.S being the countries with the highest numbers of anxiety according to the World Health Organization. The estimation globally is that 275 million people suffer from anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a serious threat that has been underestimated by our society causing us both social and economic damage. The main issue is that the person suffering is (ironically) so anxious to ask for help, causing a negative spiral. Do you recognize yourself within the symptoms of anxiety or do you know someone suffering from anxiety, reach out for help.