AnxietyShe’ll be right, ay? Well, actually, no.

Regardless of how many adverts and pop culture references try to instill it in our everyday lives, more and more New Zealanders, if current research is to be believed, don’t subscribe to the old larrikin Kiwi ideology that it’ll all work out well in the end.

According to a particularly insightful piece of journalism in The Listener last year by Catherine Woulfe in which she interviewed the editor of The Atlantic, Scott Stossel, about living and functioning with anxiety disorder at the highest level (in a wonderful excerpt he is a toilet-blocking house guest at the Kennedys’ mansion in the Hamptons), she quotes World Health Organisation figures which show 25{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} of New Zealanders will be diagnosed with anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

That puts us third on the list behind the US (where the figure is one-in-three) and Colombia (where the fear of crime is far more than in New Zealand).

The numbers that Woulfe pulls out are compelling – and, if nothing else, go to show that if you’re worried, then you’re not alone.

  • The 2006 Mental Health Survey found 15{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} of us were actively anxious. They met the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder and had had an episode in the previous 12 months.
  • Those younger than 44 were worst afflicted, with women outnumbering men by nearly two to one.
  • The 2011-12 children’s National Health Survey, found 2{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} of Kiwi children are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder before age 14. That’s two-thirds of all children diagnosed withany emotional or behavioural problems, including ADHD and depression.
  • The proportion of children diagnosed with emotional or behavioural problems rose from 1.8{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} in 2006-07 to 3.2{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} in 2011-12, with anxiety disorders accounting for most of that gain. The increase in anxiety was statistically significant across the board: for boys and girls, older children and those aged two to four.

So we’re more anxious and our children are becoming more anxious. The Listener article explores the genetic angle as to whether our forefathers are to blame for our current situation (according to Stossel, who has investigated six generations of his family – including his own kids, the result seems heartbreakingly to be yes), parenting skills, therapy, meditation and medication.

But what rings truest from the whole piece is that anxiety disorders do not preclude an active and participatory role in the modern world. Woulfe’s interview with Stossel shows that a balance of understanding and therapy (and even in the Atlantic editor’s case, a regular cocktail of thorazine and orange juice) can help you rise to the pinnacle of your profession.

And just to prove the point, you can scan to the bottom of the article where there’s a helpful list of characters such as Sigmund Freud, Emily Dickinson, Laurence Olivier, Greg Norman and Mahatma Gandhi who didn’t let anxiety disorders stand in the way of greatness.