Why are we all so ANX­IOUS?

We all know about de­pres­sion – but anx­i­ety looks set to be­come Ire­land’s big­gest men­tal health prob­lem. Anna Magee in­ves­ti­gates

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

Last year, Anne Smith was a laid- back 29-year- old who was trav­el­ling around In­dia. In April this year, back at home, that sud­denly changed. ‘I was sit­ting in the hair­dresser’s when my heart be­gan to race; I felt jit­tery,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t breathe prop­erly and my heart was beat­ing so fast, I felt as if I might pass out. I had this lump in the pit of my stom­ach and an urge to be sick.’ That was Anne’s first panic at­tack. Since then the dig­i­tal me­dia man­ager has been plagued by anx­ious feel­ings in sit­u­a­tions that never fright­ened her be­fore. ‘I be­gan to get the same feel­ings in more nor­mal sit­u­a­tions: get­ting ready in the morn­ing, walking down a crowded street. It was ter­ri­fy­ing.’

Anne is far from alone. Ex­perts are warn­ing of a new age of anx­i­ety, as anx­i­ety dis­or­ders — such as panic at­tacks, ob­ses­sive­com­pul­sive dis­or­der (OCD), post- trau­matic stress dis­or­der and gen­er­alised anx­i­ety dis­or­der (or GAD, which in­volves feel­ing over­come with worry most of the time) — are now as com­mon in Ir­ish peo­ple as de­pres­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to St Pa­trick’s Univer­sity Hospi­tal in Dublin, it is es­ti­mated that one in nine of us will suf­fer a pri­mary anx­i­ety dis­or­der in our life­time, and that anx­i­ety dis­or­ders count for a sim­i­lar level of stress and dis­abil­ity within Ir­ish so­ci­ety as can­cer or heart disease. Mean­while, pre­scrip­tions for tran­quil­lis­ing drugs such as Xanax and Val­ium are up. Women are twice as likely to be di­ag­nosed with GAD as men.

Over in Bri­tain, the fig­ures are stark. CEO of Anx­i­ety UK Nicky Lid­bet­ter points to an an­nual 10 per cent in­crease in calls to the char­ity’s helpline. ‘The re­cent rise is mainly in women with GAD,’ she ex­plains. ‘ They’re wor­ry­ing about ev­ery­thing, fright­ened about the fu­ture. They say things like, “I have this hor­ri­ble feel­ing in the pit of my stom­ach,” then go on to de­scribe con­stantly feel­ing as though they are go­ing to be sick. They tend to ex­pe­ri­ence anx­i­ety as phys­i­cal symp­toms such as nau­sea, sweat­ing and pal­pi­ta­tions.’

The Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion ( MHF) re­cently iden­ti­fied a rise in women be­tween 45 and 55 re­port­ing men­tal health is­sues such as anx­i­ety. ‘ Dur­ing this time of life women are jug­gling many roles,’ says Simon Law­tonSmith, head of pol­icy at MHF. ‘They may be wives and moth­ers, car­ry­ing a bur­den to earn money and care for age­ing par­ents. This cre­ates pres­sure that can re­sult in panic at­tacks.’

In th­ese un­cer­tain eco­nomic times, women are more likely to lose their full-time jobs than men. ‘We’re see­ing peo­ple who have never ex­pe­ri­enced anx­i­ety coming for­ward,’ says Lid­bet­ter. ‘They may want to move on but can’t be­cause there are no other jobs to go to. It shakes the foun­da­tions of even the strong­est of peo­ple, lead­ing to a mas­sive drop in con­fi­dence, man­i­fest­ing as anx­i­ety.’

But while it’s more ac­cept­able to ad­mit suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, few of us ad­mit to anx­i­ety be­cause it’s seen as some­how fail­ing to cope. ‘Suf­fer­ers will say, “I’m stressed” even when they are liv­ing with de­bil­i­tat­ing anx­i­ety symp­toms,’ says Lid­bet­ter. ‘Even doc­tors of­ten di­ag­nose the catch-all “stress”. But left un­treated, anx­i­ety can turn into se­vere de­pres­sion, which is harder to treat.’

For Anne, the anx­i­ety be­gan when, af­ter re­turn­ing from trav­el­ling, she had at­tended 15 job in­ter­views and been re­jected af­ter ev­ery one. ‘One morn­ing I no­ticed my hand shak­ing and re­alised how badly my con­fi­dence had

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