A new study by scientists in Britain has concluded that women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than men.
Anxiety is a nervous disorder usually manifested by a state of excessive uneasiness and fear, often combined with compulsive behavior or panic attacks. It is often associated with a genuine dread of social situations or potentially stressful settings. It is estimated that anxiety disorders cost the United States over $40 billion every year, so perhaps it is time we looked a little closer at this issue.
The study, published in Brain and Behavior draws a number of conclusions about which groups of people in society are more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder.
The study was lead by Olivia Remes, who works at the University of Cambridge’s Strangeways Research Laboratory, in the department of public and primary health . For the study, Remes and her co-workers poured over more than 1200 published studies on anxiety and then honed in 48 of them.
Remes stated, “Anxiety is important and shouldn’t be overlooked,” adding that a lack of understanding often doesn’t help, “sometimes people think that anxiety is just a part of their personality or that there’s nothing they can do about it, but there is.”
The headline discovery of the study is that women are almost twice as likely at their male counterparts to suffer from an anxiety disorder. For women, the study found that anxiety is present in nine out of every 100 women.
The reasons for this difference are not clear. An obvious thought might be the social stigma associated with mental health issues. Men are generally very reluctant to report or seek help for disorders of this kind. ‘Toughen up and get on with it’ is the general response from other males.
There may also be biological differences in the chemistry of the brains, as women are also more likely to experience other mental health problems including depression. (Although again, are the numbers skewed by men suffering in silence?)
Aside from the gender bias, interestingly, they found no evidence to suggest that anxiety is on the increase in society, counter to many peoples opinion, usually based on purely anecdotal evidence. From 1990 to 2010, the total number of people falling victim to an anxiety disorder remained roughly that same.
Geographical and other differences
As well as a clear gender differentiation, there were geographic anomalies too. People in North America and Western Europe are far more likely to suffer from anxiety than anywhere else in the world. North America has almost eight out of 100 sufferers compared to fewer than three in 100 in East Asia.
The manifestations of anxiety are also different based on geography. Westerners are more likely to feel a strong self-consciousness, perhaps that people are staring at them, where as an Asian person is more likely to overly concerned about causing offense to others. For this reason, any therapies need to be aligned with cultural sensitivities.
The geographic analysis was compromised by the lack of reliable data in certain areas and the study singled out Native American populations, as well as Australia and New Zealand for having scant or poor quality statistics.
Worryingly, almost one in ten people (male and female) under the age of 35 had experienced an anxiety disorder. This number suggests more nurture than nature and perhaps is influenced by the changing culture as a result of social media. Maybe older people are just more adept at hiding their problems?
It is probably to have been expected, but those with other general health issues are also far more susceptible to anxiety. Multiple sclerosis had the greatest impact, the study found that a worrying 32 percent of those suffering from the degenerative disease also experienced anxiety. Heart disease also increased the likelihood of falling victim to anxiety, though less than MS, with 11 in every 100.
A severe type of anxiety is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This is not a binary disorder, but comes in a spectrum, and at its worst can be a terrible affliction. The study found that women were far more likely (double the one percent of society) to suffer from this, both during and immediately after pregnancy. Again chemical and hormonal influences on the brain are likely to play a part.
If you are a Western woman, you are many times more likely to suffer from anxiety than an East Asian man. These psychological illnesses are likely related to chemical imbalances in the brain and not just social pressures. Understanding the causes of these disorders is vital, but also more research needs to go into how to treat these problems.
“There are treatments, including psychological treatments and medication, and other things people can do to help their mental health, such as physical activity, meditation and yoga,” Remes said.