Fatimah Abbouchi Del Cid, was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Photo: Paul Jeffers
An alarming number of people think anxiety is a personality trait rather than a treatable mental health illness that is more common in Australia than depression.
Mental health charity beyondblue has relaunched its national anxiety campaign after its own analysis showed 40 per cent of people think anxiety is “just stress”.
A survey of 700 people aged between 25 and 45 found that only half of those knew anxiety was not part of someone’s personality, and about the same number thought it affects only a small proportion of people.
In fact, about a quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition at some time in their lives and about 3 million people currently have a condition, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“Feeling anxious or stressed about something is part of our daily lexicon but, in fact, when we’re talking about anxiety it is very disabling,” beyondblue head Georgie Harman says.
Many people don’t recognise the symptoms of anxiety, which can include hot and cold flushes, a racing heart, snowballing and negative thoughts and compulsive behaviour.
For Fatimah Abbouchi Del Cid, now 28, her first panic attack arrived unexpectedly about seven years ago when she was having dinner with her sister at a Melbourne restaurant.
It felt, she says simply, like she was going to die.
Amid an overwhelming feeling of nausea, dizziness, the shakes and hysteria, Ms Abbouchi Del Cid was told gently by a fellow diner – a doctor – that she was probably having a panic attack.
This was a foreign concept to her – she thought anxiety was something you might experience before, for example, public speaking.
Hospital staff confirmed this diagnosis and she started cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as trying meditation and yoga.
“Most people don’t get it. They think anxiety means you’re a bit stressed out or making it up,” Ms Abbouchi Del Cid said.
“Having this diagnosis allowed me to look back on the times when I’d had anxiety in the past, not knowing then what they were.”
Women are more likely to experience anxiety than men – one in three will experience it in their lifetime compared with one in five men.
Anxiety can rob people of their peace of mind, stop them leaving their homes or holding down a job, Ms Harman said.
“No one should have to live with the relentless worrying, panic attacks or compulsive rituals that often characterise anxiety.”
beyondblue: 1300 224 636
Generalised anxiety disorder: A person feels anxious most days, for six months or more.
Social phobia: A person has an intense fear of being criticised or embarrassed in everyday situations.
Specific phobia: A person is very fearful of a particular object or situation.
Obsessive compulsive disorder: A person has unwanted thoughts that cause anxiety and may try to relieve this with certain behaviours, eg washing hands.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: When a person has upsetting flashbacks from a traumatic event and symptoms last for more than a month.
Panic disorder: A person has recurrent panic attacks or persistently fears having these for more than a month.