Anxiety is an illness that everyone can, and most probably will suffer with at some point in their lives. It doesn’t matter how old you are, your gender or your background, it can affect us all, and it is affecting a great deal of people in a number of different ways.
Anxiety and panic attacks are extremely common amongst young people. Statistics provided by Anxiety UK show that 13.3 percent of 16-19 years have suffered with anxiety and 15.8 percent of 20-24 year olds have suffered with it also. To put this into perspective, look around the room the next time you’re in a class, up to five of the people around you could be suffering with a form of anxiety.
You wouldn’t know this, however, because anxiety is a mental illness that you cannot physically see. This is what leads to the great deal of misunderstandings about anxiety and the problems that many people deal with because of it. It is not like a broken arm or leg; you cannot see that the person may be suffering as there appears to be no physical problem. However, just because it cannot be seen does not mean that it is not a real illness that needs treatment, just like a broken bone or a physical problem.
Anxiety takes many different forms; exam stress, general anxiety disorder, phobias and social phobias, OCD or separation anxiety- and therefore, university provides the ideal conditions for many forms of anxiety to thrive. With so much spare time on your hands at university, it is very easy to let thoughts run away with themselves.
Universities all over the country have been carrying out events in conjunction with mental health awareness day which encouraged people to hold a ‘tea and talk’ on the 10th November to talk about mental health in an informal and non-intimidating way; this year’s focus being on schizophrenia.
These efforts to raise awareness about mental health are certainly a step in the right direction. Talking about any difficulties you may be going through and accepting that you need some help along the way is a big step to recovery.
However, there are still many people that are keen to suggest that if you maintain a good balance of sleep, socialising and working then you can help to prevent yourself from suffering with anxiety and panic attacks.
I feel that this is a very sweeping generalisation. Whilst it is true that a lack of sleep and time to relax may make things feel worse, sometimes the cause of anxiety may route back well before arriving at university and having to deal with the stresses of university life. Therefore, I feel it can only go so far in tackling the problem. Everyone’s sufferings are unique and everyone will suffer in a different way.
To brush off the issue of anxiety as ‘part of growing up’ simply isn’t good enough and I feel that this is where a great deal of misunderstanding lies. Though young people are more prone to suffering with varying levels of anxiety as a part of growing up and experiencing different stresses and pressures for the first time, a lot of the time anxiety can just be a part of who you are. It is an illness that some people will always suffer with on and off, even if they don’t realise it or don’t fully understand it themselves.
The increase of mental health awareness programs in universities is definitely a step in the right direction. However, more needs to be done to educate people on anxiety, the problems it can cause, and how to combat it early on, so that people are less likely to undermine it and sufferers feel able to reach out for help to understand the illness. Until this happens, people will still go through many days, or even life, suffering in silence, not understanding, but too scared to seek help or answers.