Women and people under the age of 35 at greatest risk of anxiety

June 6, 2016, University of Cambridge
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men, according to a review of existing scientific literature, led by the University of Cambridge. The study also found that people from Western Europe and North America are more likely to suffer from anxiety than people from other cultures.

The review, published today in the journal Brain and Behavior, also highlighted how anxiety disorders often provide a double burden on people experiencing other health-related problems, such as , cancer and even pregnancy.

Anxiety disorders, which often manifest as excessive worry, fear and a tendency to avoid potentially stressful situations including social gatherings, are some of the most common mental health problems in the Western world. The annual cost related to the disorders in the United States is estimated to be $42.3 million. In the European Union, over 60 million people are affected by anxiety disorders in a given year.

There have been many studies looking at the number of people affected by anxiety disorders and the groups that are at highest risk, and in an attempt to synthesise the various studies, researchers from the University of Cambridge's Institute of Public Health carried out a global review of systematic reviews. Out of over 1,200 reviews, the researchers identified 48 reviews that matched their criteria for inclusion. The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

Between 1990 and 2010, the overall proportion of people affected remained largely unchanged, with around four out of every 100 experiencing anxiety. The highest proportion of people with anxiety is in North America, where almost eight out of every 100 people are affected; the proportion is lowest in East Asia, where less than three in 100 people have this .

Women are almost twice as likely to be affected as men, and young individuals—both male and female—under 35 years of age are disproportionately affected.

The researchers also found that people with other health conditions are often far more likely to also experience . For example, around one in ten adults (10.9%) with cardiovascular disease and living in Western countries are affected by generalised anxiety disorder, with women showing higher anxiety levels than men. People living with multiple sclerosis are most affected—as many as one in three patients (32%) also have an anxiety disorder.

According to first author Olivia Remes from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge: "Anxiety disorders can make life extremely difficult for some people and it is important for our health services to understand how common they are and which groups of people are at greatest risk.

"By collecting all these data together, we see that these disorders are common across all groups, but women and young people are disproportionately affected. Also, people who have a chronic health condition are at a particular risk, adding a double burden on their lives."

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)—which is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions—was found to be a problem in pregnant women and in the period immediately after birth. In the general population, only one in a hundred people are affected by OCD, but the proportion with the disorder was double in pregnant women and slightly higher in post-partum women.

However, the analysis also showed that data on some populations was lacking or of poor quality. This was particularly true for marginalised communities, such as indigenous cultures in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and drug users, street youth and sex workers. Anxiety disorders also represent an important issue among people identifying as lesbian, gay, and bisexual; however, there are not enough studies in these populations, and those that have looked at it are of variable quality

Dr Louise Lafortune, Senior Research Associate at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, explains: "Anxiety disorders affect a lot of people and can lead to impairment, disability, and risk of suicide. Although many groups have examined this important topic, significant gaps in research remain."

Professor Carol Brayne, Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, adds: "Even with a reasonably large number of studies of anxiety disorder, data about marginalised groups is hard to find, and these are who are likely to be at an even greater risk than the general population. We hope that, by identifying these gaps, future research can be directed towards these groups and include greater understanding of how such evidence can help reduce individual and population burdens."

Explore further: Lesbian, gay, bisexual Canadians report higher rates of mental health issues

More information: Olivia Remes et al, A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations, Brain and Behavior (2016). DOI: 10.1002/brb3.497

Related Stories

Lesbian, gay, bisexual Canadians report higher rates of mental health issues

March 18, 2016
Gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadians experience more mood and anxiety disorders than other Canadians, and they are more likely to turn to heavy drinking.

How to calm an anxious mind

May 18, 2016
Anxiety disorders and related problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are among the most common mental health conditions. At least one in four Canadians will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

New warning signs of mental health disorders

March 21, 2016
Healthy people who have occasional hallucinations or delusions are more likely to experience mood and anxiety disorders, University of Queensland researchers have found.

Depression a global problem: It's not just Westerners who get the blues

July 23, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Depression and anxiety are found in every society in the world, debunking old theories that only Westerners get depressed.

Social anxiety is highly heritable but is affected by environment

January 20, 2016
Genes play a crucial role over time although environmental factors matter most in the short term, according to a major study into social anxiety and avoidant personality disorders from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Over 4 million working Americans suffer from anxiety disorders

May 21, 2015
(HealthDay)—A new study finds that 4.3 million Americans with full-time jobs had an anxiety disorder in the past year.

Recommended for you

Length of eye blinks might act as conversational cue

December 12, 2018
Blinking may feel like an unconscious activity, but new research by Paul Hömke and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, suggests that humans unknowingly perceive eye blinks as nonverbal cues when ...

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood

December 12, 2018
Increasing one's level of physical activity may be an effective way to boost one's mood, according to a new study from a team including scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the ...

How bullying affects the brain

December 12, 2018
New research from King's College London identifies a possible mechanism that shows how bullying may influence the structure of the adolescent brain, suggesting the effects of constantly being bullied are more than just psychological.

High-dose antipsychotics place children at increased risk of unexpected death

December 12, 2018
Children and young adults without psychosis who are prescribed high-dose antipsychotic medications are at increased risk of unexpected death, despite the availability of other medications to treat their conditions, according ...

What social stress in monkeys can tell us about human health

December 11, 2018
Research in recent years has linked a person's physical or social environment to their well-being. Stress wears down the body and compromises the immune system, leaving a person more vulnerable to illnesses and other conditions. ...

You make decisions quicker and based on less information than you think

December 11, 2018
We live in an age of information. In theory, we can learn everything about anyone or anything at the touch of a button. All this information should allow us to make super-informed, data-driven decisions all the time.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ericpelser
not rated yet Jun 07, 2016
I'm
56 so what does age really mean ?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.