Mental health awareness comes to the forefront in many parts of Australia during October and with anxiety being the most common mental health condition in this country, affecting over two million Australians each year, it needs a closer look.
Anxiety: More than nerves and passing fears
It is normal to have some concerns or nervousness in response to pressure situations such as deadlines, reviews or public speaking. Similarly, fear in unfamiliar or potentially dangerous situations is to be expected. However, these feelings should be temporary and have an obvious or concrete root cause and they should not manifest in everyday tasks such as eating in public or making small-talk.
People experiencing anxiety often describe it as an ongoing sense of uneasiness about a vague future or a gnawing worry about what may or may not happen. When concerns and fears dominate thoughts, are impossible to control, interfere with daily life and prevent someone from performing at their best, help should be sought.
Common signs and symptoms of anxiety include withdrawing or avoiding situations and people for fear of being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping and trouble concentrating are also signs that someone is experiencing serious anxiety. Download beyondblue’s fact sheet on social phobias.
Post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, various phobias and panic attacks are all serious forms of anxiety disorders.
A checklist developed by beyondblue can help determine if you have been experiencing anxiety and depression.
How does diversity factor into anxiety?
Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, genders, sexual-orientations, cultures, abilities, and socio-economic groups. However, we know that discrimination and harassment are disproportionately experienced by some groups in the community, and this causes higher levels of anxiety among members of these groups.
With one in seven Australians experiencing discrimination because of their culture or ethnicity, which can cause psychological distress, anxiety and depression, those from diverse cultural groups can be more likely to suffer anxiety. Furthermore, as anxiety peaks at times of uncertainty and change, new migrants often experience higher levels of anxiety. Without family and friends or support networks, anxiety can escalate.
Mental health support services have recently reported a significant increase in demand from members of the LGBTIQ+ community. The recent marriage equality debate has produced increased negative commentary towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and this can cause or exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
Appropriate words and actions
It’s important to remember that:
- Anxiety is common and treatable
- It is an illness, not a weakness
- Help is available and there is no shame in getting treatment
- By talking about anxiety, depression and other forms of mental illness, we can help raise awareness and reduce stigma.
Heads Up and beyondblue make the following suggestions for helping someone suffering anxiety:
- Let them know if you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour
- Spend time talking about their experiences and let them know that you’re there to listen without being judgmental
- Help them to get information from a website, library or community health centre
- Suggest they go to a doctor or health professional, and help them to make an appointment
- Offer to go with them to their appointment and/or follow them up afterwards
- Encourage them to get enough sleep, exercise and to eat well
- Encourage family and friends to invite them out and keep in touch, but don’t pressure them to participate in activities
- Encourage the person to face their fears with support from their doctor/psychologist
- Discourage them from using alcohol or other drugs to try to feel better
- Contact a doctor or hospital if they become a threat to themselves or others.
It is unhelpful to:
- Put pressure on them by telling them to “snap out of it” or “get their act together”
- Stay away or avoid them
- Tell them they just need to stay busy or get out more
- Pressure them to party more or wipe out how they’re feeling with drugs and alcohol
- Assume the problem will just go away.
- Lifeline: 131114
- beyondblue Support Service: 1300 22 4636
- Qlife: 1800 184 527