I recently wrote about the need to heed your stress. The post was fueled, in part, by the fact that certain writers appear to be suggesting that anxiety is the new normal. This flawed notion was no doubt informed by the stats that tell us yes, there’s a lot of anxiety about. So, I put finger tips to keyboard in order to unpick the case that lots of anxiety can be normal, but what I didn’t mention was the extent of the problem. Here are some of the cold hard facts:
Anxiety is perfectly normal but anxiety disorders are not. From a clinical perspective anxiety disorders is an umbrella term beneath which includes phobia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorders. Huge numbers of people are affected and most with one anxiety disorder will have another anxiety disorder.
In any given year it is estimated that 40 million American adults aged 18 and over will experience an anxiety disorder; that’s just over 18 percent of the population. If we dig a little deeper we get a clearer idea of the total picture. Panic disorder, for example, affects around 6 million American adults (just under 3 percent of the adult population) and about one in three of those affected will develop agoraphobia; more on that in a moment.
More recent estimates of obsessive compulsive disorder suggest that roughly 3.3 million people in the U.S. are affected. OCD affects men and women equally and all ethnic groups are affected. As with all mental health problems OCD carries the additional burden of being misunderstood. Common misunderstandings include OCD is some avoidance mechanism to get out of doing things, or its an attention seeking device, or OCD is just a different way of saying “mad”.
I’m pleased to see that more and more news agencies are picking up the human cost elements involved in military conflict. The biggest hidden issue has always been the emotional costs and amongst these post-traumatic stress disorder stands out. The National Center for PTSD state 1 in 10 Gulf War veterans are affected, up to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan wars veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. U.S. Army figures show the numbers of soldiers forced to leave the Army on the grounds of mental illness increased 64 percent between 2005-09. Concerning though these stats are, the broader picture on PTSD reveals that in any given year approximately 8 million American adults have PTSD.
Generalized anxiety disorder, a condition characterized by persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday matters, is thought to affect approximately 7 million American adults in the 18+ age category, in a given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Someone with a phobia will have an overwhelming need to avoid contact with the source of anxiety. There are different kinds of phobia but these days we tend to categorize them either as simple or complex in nature. Simple phobias relate to specific objects, animals situations or activities. Examples include spiders, dentists and flying. Approximately 19.2 million American adults have some type of simple phobia. Around 15 million have a social phobia and around 2 million have agoraphobia, with or without a history of panic disorder.
You may have noticed that in all the examples listed approximate figures are quoted. These stats derive from the case records collected by various health agencies, family doctors or other health professionals. They do not however account for the hidden numbers who never seek conventional professional support.
National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml#Mood