The UK review, which analysed more than 1200 studies from around the world and concentrated on 48 primary pieces of research, also looked at the global distribution of anxiety disorders and discovered that people in North America and Western Europe are more at risk than people in Asia.
The data brought up some interesting statistics:
- Women are almost twice as likely to be affected as men at a ratio of 1.9:1.
- Global prevalence was largely unchanged between 1990 and 2010, going up slightly from 3.8% of the population to 4%.
- A “sharp rise in younger people over time” was noted as was the fact that “irrespective of culture, individuals under the age of 35 years are disproportionately affected by anxiety disorders”. This peaks at around one in 10 people.
- The lowest prevalence was found in East Asia (2.8% of the population).
- The highest rates were found in North America and North Africa/Middle East (7.7% of the population).
- Those who suffer health problems are much more likely to report anxiety disorders – with up to 70% of people with chronic or long-term illness also saying they had developed anxiety.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects around one in 100 people – but that percentage doubles for women during pregnancy and is slightly higher after they’ve given birth.
- Although New Zealand wasn’t singled out for specific statistics, the study did note that more research was required to investigate anxiety amongst Maori.
Research like this is useful for a number of reasons – for example it helps show why good mental health strategies are important for people already suffering with long-term illness such as heart disease or multiple sclerosis – but it also helps us start to debate why there are discrepancies in the numbers of people living with anxiety on the basis of sex and geography.
For example, the numbers don’t include the large numbers of men who don’t talk about mental health – and certainly don’t report – anxiety. It also makes us question why women seem more at risk of anxiety – is it brain chemistry or is it their role in society?
Are young people more represented in the statistics simply because older people don’t talk about anxiety or because younger generations tend to live in a tech-heavy, fast-paced multi-media world?
In New Zealand, the 2011/2012 Health Survey found 6.1% or more than 200,000 people had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders at some stage of their life and that the rates for women (7.7%) were higher than those for men (4.4%) – the most at-risk group was among women aged 25 to 54 – so similar patterns seem to exist here as well.
Although the UK report’s authors estimate that anxiety disorders cost the US $42 billion a year and affect more than 60 million people in the European Union in any given year, the effect of anxiety on how an individual lives their life is infinitely more important for that individual.
Knowing that you may be in a high-risk group is one thing, but learning about how the disorder works and knowing how to find help for a disorder which can be crippling and lead to excessive fear and avoidance of everyday social situations is of far more practical use.
For more information about social anxiety and how our psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists can help, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 09 973 5950, or contact us via the website.