When people think of being anxious, they think of nervously waiting for an exam to start or getting prepared for an interview but for nearly 300,000 young people in the UK who have an anxiety disorder, feelings and thoughts of anxiety are a daily battle.
For those dealing with anxiety, everyday tasks such as leaving the house, using appliances and travelling can bring an intense feeling of panic and fear. The condition can be immobilising, causing many people to restrict their activities to try and avoid the situation that triggers the feelings of worry and stress, while others live with the symptoms constantly. While anxiety is a mental disorder, there can also be physical symptoms such as a fast and/or irregular heartbeat, indigestion, faintness and dizziness, muscle tensions and pains, and weight loss.
‘Usually it's a sudden fear of something,’ explains Nathan who has had anxiety for over two years. ‘But you can't quite pinpoint what exactly. Quite often in terms of social events, you get a fear that something bad will happen and it can leave you feeling quite nauseous. It makes you think that by not going, you're doing yourself a favour which is unfounded but somehow that's what your mind says.’
Even more concerning is that anxiety is becoming an increasing problem. Figures, given by the BBC, state that one in four people have a mental disorder at some point in their life, with an annual cost of £105bn to the UK economy. Furthermore, figures show young people are affected disproportionately with over half of mental health problems starting by the age of 14 and 75% by 18. A simple web search about the condition brings a rush of results of accounts from people who’ve experienced or live with anxiety including several in larger publications such as in the Metro and The Huffington Post- not surprising perhaps, considering that Anxiety UK claim that as many as 1 in 6 young people will experience some form of anxiety disorder such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), panic attacks, phobias and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), just to name a few.
‘Through a combination of losing my band, beginning work full time and stress of new job/apprenticeship work I started having panic attacks/breakdowns. The first time it happened I hadn't a clue what was wrong. The second time was on the following Monday and it happened again. The next day it happened yet again and I thought, “hang on there's something wrong here, this isn't normal”. So, the Tuesday evening, I saw my GP and described my feelings/symptoms etc, and he diagnosed it as depression and anxiety.’
Perhaps the rise of people sharing their personal experiences can be linked to several celebrities coming forward to discuss their own challenges with the condition. Notable names such as Kate Moss, Ellie Goulding and Zoella have all spoken about their experiences with the condition, with the latter speaking about her experiences quite openly through her blog.
So, what is being done to help with this common disorder, and mental health problems in general? In January, the government vowed to put more measures in place to properly support those with mental health issues such as additional training for staff in secondary schools to spot symptoms of mental health problems, and investing more money in community care such as crisis cafes and local clinics. Surprisingly, commercial retailers are also getting involved. M&S have taken steps to help, implementing ‘Frazzled Cafes’ (an idea started by the comedian and mental health awareness campaigner Ruby Wax) across their stores where people can attend ‘sessions’ and share personal stories in a safe non-judgemental space.
Yet despite the promising ideas and procedures being put in place, one key hurdle in helping those with anxiety is removing the stigma that is linked to mental health, thereby welcoming a more open discussion and encouraging people to get checked out. While organisations such as ‘Time to Change’ and ‘Mind’ are working hard to raise awareness of the conditions and change the perception of mental health, there is still vast room for improvement. But what else can be done to make people more aware of what mental health means and understand where there is a problem? One popular suggestions seems to be implementing mental health lessons into the national school curriculum. Nathan agrees:
‘Education at 11-16 years old needs to include more mental health awareness and education. Other than 'depression is being sad'; 'anxiety is being nervous'; 'schizophrenia is hearing voices', there wasn't any detail for mental health when I was at school. Whereas if it's tackled from a young age, there will be more discussion, less stigma and more young people actually getting the help they need.’
While the rise of reported anxiety disorders in young people is alarming and a lot of work needs to be done to continue to support those affected, both through improving mental health services and implementing more preventative measures and support, it does appear that it is being taking more seriously, something that can only be good for the many people who face this condition each day.
While there is a lot of speculation as to the causes behind the rising number of people with anxiety disorders, one thing is certain: anxiety is a growing issue and while society seems to slowly be taking steps to tackle this, more investment and time needs to be given to this sensitive issue, for the sake of the many young people who it now affects and future generations.
If you think that you might have anxiety, or know someone who does, make sure to speak to someone about how you’re feeling and seek support from your GP or one of the organisations below.