Anxiety and Stigma

Anxiety disorders are prevalent in every country around the world, affecting an estimated 18 percent of the adult population in the United States and approximately 10 percent in Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Although the numbers are smaller, chronic anxiety is common all non-western countries.

Chronic anxiety is often viewed not as a real mental health issue, but a character flaw or a sign of laziness, selfishness or weakness. All too often, people who need treatment are told to toughen up, or that they could stop worrying if they really wanted to.

In spite of the prevalence of anxiety disorders in our families, schools and communities, most people are unable to recognize the mentally crippling symptoms experienced by anxiety sufferers every single day.

Such a lack of understanding breeds stigma that prevents anxiety sufferers from seeking treatment or from discussing the problem with friends or family. Stigma and shame make it difficult for people to seek counseling that can help them break free of crippling anxiety. The isolation can be devastating.

If you aren’t sure how to recognize signs of anxiety in other people, there are a few common things to watch for.

People who suffer with anxiety may:

· be unable to stop worrying excessively, even when they realize the fear is irrational and has no basis in reason.

· constantly feel stressed and unable to relax.

· have difficulty concentrating.

· tend to see the worst possible scenario in every situation.

· spend a lot of time worrying about worrying.

· experience a host of physical problems, including fatigue, irritability, muscle aches, headaches, insomnia, trembling, nausea and diarrhea.

If someone you love has problems with severe anxiety, remember that the worry isn’t all “in their head,” and they can’t simply get over it. They are very aware that their fear is often irrational, but telling them there’s nothing to worry about only makes matters worse.

Be patient and remember that struggling with anxiety is physically and mentally exhausting. People who suffer from anxiety need support, compassion and understanding – not advice, however well-meaning.

Seeking Treatment: Breaking Free of Stigma

Anxiety is a highly treatable disorder and treatment varies for each person. However, most people benefit from skilled counseling and therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), medication, or a combination of medication and therapy.

Treatment is generally more complicated when people are diagnosed with more than one disorder, such as anxiety coupled with depression or substance abuse. However, this is a very common situation that can be successfully treated.

If you use drugs and alcohol to ease the discomfort of anxiety, consider drug and alcohol treatment or rehab, which can address both problems simultaneously.

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